Scotland's educational excellence slips

Saturday 11th November 2017
Computers poor education ranking

From being a world education model, Scotland has slipped behind to lag its competitors in education the young in computing and technology warns Professor Judy Robertson of the Moray House School of Education at the University of Edinburgh Scotland is not valuing the right skills warns the computer scientist. Computational thinking is now the core part of the curriculum from age five in England. The Scottish Curriculum for Excellence currently focuses on basic ICT skills only at primary.

At Holyrood’s Learning through Technology conference,  it was highlighted that there had been a 25 percent decrease critically in the number of computing teachers since 2005, down from 802 to 598, as pupil numbers  dropped some 11 per cent, leaving 17 per cent of Scottish secondary schools without a computing subject specialist teacher.

A survey for the Royal Society, showed that 44 percent of secondary teachers report they only have confidence to teach early stages of the curriculum . Some 26 per cent had not undertaken any computer-related professional development in the past year. To truly transform computing education, teachers need unhindered access to a structured and ongoing programme of professional development, concludes the report and the programme must support teachers in all schools country wide.

The issue of gender imbalance needs to be addressed among pupils choosing to study computing as the report notes  “many great pioneers of computing were women yet in Scotland only 20 percent of those taking National 5 are female and a mere 14 per cent at Advanced Higher level.

The Royal Society also expresses concern that computer science is being regarded as a “difficult option” suitable only for the ablest pupils. “Computing isn’t a subject that should be reserved for a subset of pupils,” it said. “Perceived as a specialist subject, the uptake of the subject from 14-18 year olds will not increase rapidly enough.”

A number of recommendations are made by the Society. These include that quality-assured conversion courses must be made available,  free of charge,  to teachers of other subjects. Government should work with learned societies on content, qualification, pedagogy as well as computing assessment methods.

New benchmarks for technology education in Scotland were published by Education in Scotland back in March and, the University of Glasgow launched a dedicated centre for computing education in September, that brings together University experts with Education Scotland, the SQA, teachers and industry.

Quintin Cutts, Professor of Computer Science Education, who directs the center, noted  quickly digital technology was   becoming key innovation driver  in world wide societies and economies. The Glasgow Centre’s ambition  is to move  this critical subject to being considered as fundamental to learning from kindergarten  stages as with maths and science.

“It’s vital that Scotland – and the UK as a whole – has a workforce which thoroughly understands digital technology and has the high level of engineering skill required to push that technology forward.” he is quoted. “We can’t simply teach students how to use products like Microsoft Office and expect them to succeed – they need to have the computational thinking skills required to imagine and develop new products for themselves.Embedding computing science in education from an early age will be hugely important in helping achieve that goal.”

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