The Boy McIntosh takes issue with Eric Schmidt on his blog today. Not because he disagrees with the Google Chairman’s recent assault on the ‘UK’ education system (he doesn’t, and nor do I up to a point) but rather because Schmidt didn’t appreciate the fact that there is no such thing as a ‘UK’ education system. It is a fair enough point to make, but I have to admit that Ewan’s Scottish Nationalist tone of admonishment is what made me desperate to leave Scotland some twenty two years ago and that makes me continually put off plans to return, even for a few days (for which I apologise wholeheartedly to my parents and friends).
I’m afraid too that Ewan himself falls into the same trap as Schmidt and shows a similar degree of naiveté. Now I have no recent personal experience of schools in Scotland, but I am sure that just because “programming is a core part of [the Scottish] curriculum for excellence Technologies strand, from age 3 through to 18” it doesn’t mean that all Scottish youngsters are growing up with a secure grounding in computer sciences. Similarly, just because there is no requirement for programming or computer science to be taught in English schools, it doesn’t mean that all English youngsters are growing up without any concept of how computers work.
It always infuriates me when people with a passion in a particular area of expertise think that subject should be a compulsory part of a young person’s education (and usually suggest it should be so to the age of 16 or 18). Throw in all the suggestions from the media and politicians about ‘social’ responsibilities that schools ought to be teaching, and you get the impression that schools would need to be open 24 hours a day, 365 days a year, with teachers and students alike boxed in like battery hens. Actually, when you put it like that, it sounds like something the Daily Mail would love for all public sector workers, doesn’t it?
The truth is that individual schools and teachers have always had a fairly healthy degree of freedom to deliver the kind of curriculum that individual youngsters need. Good schools and teachers respond to individual needs and give those youngsters supported guidance about what subjects they may want to begin to specialise in at whatever age is appropriate. But good schools know too that not every young person needs to know how to write computer code in order to use ICT creatively and productively; just as they know that not every young person needs to know how to strip down a gearbox in order to drive a motor car.
Now, who’s up for some compulsory bicycle maintenance lessons in schools? End of Key Stage tests would involve setting the indexing on rear derailleurs and winding handlebar tape. After all, we’ve all ridden a bike before haven’t we?...