Core Subjects: English, Maths and Science – Computing?

Nobody can argue against the importance of learning the intricacies of the English language. It teaches us to effectively articulate our ideas, opinions, needs and wants. Mathematics is equally crucial, without addition and subtraction everyday mundane tasks like managing a weekly budget and the hours you have left at work become impossible challenges. And Science, as a study of the structure and behaviour of the physical and natural world is an agglomeration of both. So where does the argument for teaching computing as a core subject stand?

With the dawn of the digital age it quickly became clear that commonplace software and technologies like MS Office, the internet and GUIs were here to stay, and that we had better start education our younger generation so as not to be left behind in the global race for IT education. ICT courses are now ubiquitous throughout UK’s secondary education and Europe’s equivalent institutions.

Today silicon is as popular as ever and careers in programming have one of the highest growth and salary rates in the world. Financial Analyst, Business Analyst, Investor, Network Engineer and Systems Administrator are all examples of jobs that require an employee to work closely with complex software applications.

But there are many counterarguments to this, one being that much of computing science is too difficult to teach. And, then again, if a child is capable of grasping algebra, then they’re only a virtual hop, skip and jump away from programming. Programming is an aspect of computing that cannot be spoon-fed, it forces engagement from teacher and student alike and imparts larger, highly transferrable, about life. Writing a program is the closest a child can come to thinking about thinking.

Population over-qualification is another unfounded concern as job markets throughout Europe are forcing university graduates to take on entry-level retail, administration and services positions. The computing industry by comparison is a veritable goldmine with 1.4 million computer intense positions expected by 2020 in the US alone (1). As reported by Forbes, some European countries like Romania are already adopting solutions for the IT expert scarcity.

Another problem is the lack of creativity when integrating technology with other subjects and this is largely down to insufficient teacher training and inadequate equipment. Governments need to recognise that raising an army of expert programmers is an economic investment, not an economic hit. Until then we can only dream of a world where art teachers show students how to manipulate photo editing software and Math teachers demonstrate mathematical concepts while teaching how to program calculator functions. Those institutions that do make an effort to introduce IT curriculums tend to focus on teaching how to use software with little to no insight into how that software functions under the bonnet. Eric Schmidt, Chairman Google and British Prime Minister David Cameron are just two advocates behind the scheme to teach children more on this subject.(2)

And finally, beyond the economic feasibility of teaching computer science lies a moral dilemma. English, Maths and Science are taught because they are external influences that shape and create the world we live in – it is only fair to equip our inheritors with the knowledge to survive it. But as the technology of developing civilisation gains momentum our education system does not, threatening to increase the divide between passive consumers and informed intellectuals.

1. http://blog.famigo.com/2013/03/why-schools-need-to-start-teaching-programming/

2. http://www.computingatschool.org.uk/