A curriculum based on a dichotomy between computer science and digital literacy is flawed. Peter Twining explains
HTML codeProgramming at the expense of schools' 'digital majority'?The Computer Science lobby, not unreasonably, are focused on enhancing the status of computer science in the school curriculum. I can’t help but be impressed at how effective they have been at doing this, as evidenced by computer science being included within the EBacc and the draft Computing Programme of Study (PoS) being included in the draft National Curriculum that is currently out for consultation.

One can imagine computer scientists applying computational thinking to ‘the problem’ of how to enhance the status of computer science in schools. It might have looked something like this:

Describe the problem:
there is a shortage of people entering the workforce with a computer science qualification.

Define the start state:
ICT in schools is a mess.

Define the end state:
All pupils study computer science throughout their school lives, with many going on to gain high status computer science qualifications.

Break the problem down into sub-problems:

  • Persuade policy makers that there is a problem with ICT in schools
  • Persuade policy makers that we have the solution
  • Get policy makers to replace ICT with computer science
  • Get policy makers to replace ICT with Computing
  • Ensure that Computing is predominantly computer science
  • Persuade policy makers to classify computer science as a science in the EBacc (to raise its status with schools)

This of course is a gross simplification, and like any such representation it is not the only possible solution and indeed it might not be the most elegant (yet alone the one that the Computer Science lobby devised). However, it captures the essence of what they appear to have succeeded in doing.

It also helps to illustrate a problem of teaching elements of computer science such as computational thinking without getting learners to consider the wider implications of their actions, which is one of the things that digital literacy (as I define it) would encompass.

'Shift in emphasis impacts negatively on every single pupil and most teachers"

There can be little doubt that computer science will feature much more strongly in school curricula in England in the future. The danger is that this will have been achieved at key stages 1 to 3 by replacing ICT (the subject which includes digital literacy alongside IT and computer science) with Computing, which as currently defined in the draft PoS is predominantly computer science. Presumably this shift in emphasis away from digital literacy towards computer science is of little concern to the Computer Science lobby. However, it would impact negatively on every single pupil and most teachers. We would see a decrease in pupils’ digital literacy competence because it would no longer be a priority for schools.

One has to ask ‘Which is more important to individuals, society and the workforce: to have more computer scientists and programmers or to have more people who understand the social and political implications of digital technologies and can use them responsibly, ethically and effectively?’

If you think, as I do, that the draft Computing PoS needs to be re-balanced to include a greater focus on digital literacy, whilst retaining the fundamentals of computer science, then I urge you to respond to the consultation on the National Curriculum and make your views known.

Peter Twining

Peter Twining is a senior lecturer in the Department of Education at the Open University and the director of Vital


Follow Peter Twining on Twitter @PeterT
Read his thoughts on the curriculum (and future of education more generally) at the edfutures.net 'bliki'

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