If the UK wants to grow its economy and be a global leader in the fast-growing technology industry, we will need many more school and university-leavers with top-notch computer science qualifications to fill the job positions being created.
And that means our teachers having both the right skills and the appropriate support to provide the skills our young people need.
Education secretary Michael Gove announced earlier this year that computer science is to be introduced as a core subject discipline within the new national curriculum for computing in 2014.
This is an awesome step forward and means the current curriculum will offer the opportunity for more of our brightest students to learn STEM skills such as coding that will prepare them well for an exciting career in computing.
This is long overdue. Our IT industry is struggling with a substantial skills shortage and progress in addressing it has been slow.
Many businesses in the Tech City technology hub (see further information) blame a shortage of skilled workers for slowing their growth. For many, the only solution is sourcing highly trained international talent to fill the gaps.
The solution, I believe, lies in two key areas. First, to provide students with well-structured learning materials which provide the inspiration and the fundamental skills needed to make a career in IT.
The new computing curriculum will teach a fundamental understanding of computing that will enable students to be educated creators of technology, the next generation of innovators capable of designing new computers and programs to boost our economy and improve the quality of life for everyone.
Second, the changes needed in teaching computing and ICT can only be made by teachers who have the skills, knowledge and technological understanding required to teach the new curriculum well.
This is a huge challenge and calls for the whole IT community to work together to support both the implementation and the delivery of the new curriculum – from teachers, IT professionals and employers, to organisations such as Computing at School, Code Club, Apps for Good and Raspberry Pi.
The new curriculum focuses on computational thinking while still embodying the most important aspects of digital literacy, which these days should be considered as important as literacy and numeracy.
Schools need the encouragement and freedom to organise this curriculum to best meet their pupils’ needs. This can seem like a daunting task, however, and there are many teachers who feel in the dark about the new curriculum. So how can the process be made more manageable?
First, make the most of its flexibility. The entire computing curriculum from year 1 to 11 fits on to two sides of A4, so it can not be overly prescriptive. This will allow schools and individual teachers real space to teach as they see fit.
Second, enthusiasm is vital. This curriculum will offer a brand-new opportunity to excite and engage students, not just with cool uses of computer technology, but with a foundational understanding of how it all works. Students will hopefully see what a fantastic opportunity the curriculum is for them but only if their schools and teachers also fully embrace it.
It is vital that we stress the creativity of computational thinking. Despite what many people believe, computing is extremely creative, as are the people who work in the tech world. Every time a student writes a program, they are creating something brand new that has never existed before, which encourages and proves inherent creativity –we must harness this exciting aspect of the new computing curriculum.
There is help available and there are various concrete steps every secondary ICT/computing teacher can take to help them feel better prepared for the changes in September 2014.
Join Computing at School (CAS) – it is a free, 7,000-strong supportive community of teachers and professionals focused on supporting the new computing curriculum.
Sign your school up to the CAS/BCS Academy Network of Excellence. Membership is open to all schools and means that you will be connected to your local CAS master teacher and CAS regional co-ordinator.
Join your local CAS Computing Hub. There are more than 70 hubs around the country enabling teachers to meet each other and share ideas. Most hubs meet every term.
Start a Code Club. This is a nationwide network of volunteer-led after-school coding clubs for children aged nine to 11.
Skills Matter recently announced a new partnership with CAS and Code Club with the aim of engaging our 50,000-strong community of software developers to help provide ICT teachers with the right professional support and the confidence for next year’s new computing curriculum.
Both CAS and Code Club are already doing fantastic work by supporting teachers and their pupils through the provision of great learning materials. Now we want to help them extend the impact they have even further by engaging our community to learn and share skills with teachers.
There is no better industry than tech for building a successful career and by working together, today’s computing students will be the creators of tomorrow’s tech giants. What more motivation do we need?
Wendy Devolder is CEO of Skills Matter, which supports a community of 35,000 software professionals to learn and share skills. Visit http://skillsmatter.com/