It’s not very often we look at education on this blog in spite of our previous involvements with LTSP (news passim) and open source use petitions (news passim), but the past couple of days have provided a couple of interesting stories that deserve examination.
Firstly, The Guardian has launched a digital literacy campaign. Whilst the main focus is on IT teaching in schools, its poor quality and the rumoured almost total emphasis of teaching on how to use one proprietary office suite to the exclusion of almost everything else, the paper’s campaign also points out that industry and employers are facing a shortage of workers with programming skills, fuelled by poor-quality training courses in universities and colleges.
We realised a few years ago from our involvements with matters ICT and academic that schools represent a goldmine for both software and hardware suppliers. On Sunday, the BBC’s education news carried a piece entitled “Schools kit scam ‘could cost schools millions’“. This report highlighted an investigation carried out by BBC Radio 5 Live investigation which discovered that schools across the UK are being charged up to 10 times too much for laptops and other IT equipment through mis-sold lease agreements with schools being chased for payment for hardware they initially believed was free. The worst case found by the investigators was Glemsford Primary in Suffolk, which now owes an estimated £500,000 to Clydesdale Bank after leasing equipment with a value of approximately £700,000.
What we cannot understand is why schools don’t try using LTSP and thin clients. There’s only one machine to go wrong and it would also fit in nicely with the green ethics which schools instil in their charges nowadays. See our dedicated LTSP page for details.
Update 11/01/12: Just one day after the original post was written, Education Secretary Michael Gove announces major changes to school ICT classes. In essence, the education secretary will say in a speech today that the existing curriculum in Information and Communication Technology (ICT) has left children “bored out of their minds being taught how to use Word and Excel by bored teachers”.
He will instead create an “open source” (Is this an abuse of the term “open source”? Ed.) curriculum in computer science by giving schools the freedom to use teaching resources designed with input from leading employers and academics, in changes that will come into effect this September.
Read about Mr Gove’s proposed changes to school ICT in The Guardian.
I was going to make reference to Mr. Gove’s changes to ICT provision but our chief scribe beat me to it. What with the imminent release of the Raspberry Pi and the mayor of NYC taking up coding, a radical change in how IT is delivered is afoot, hopefully a return to the innovation the BBC Micro and others engendered instead of the Microsoft-centric route taken now.
This whole issue makes me want to weep. Having seen a friend’s son come home with a school-supplied laptop, I thought “wow, they’re going to encourage pupils to experiment with some cheap kit.” Boy was I wrong – it’s a heavily locked-down Windows system that he can’t change one little bit without breaking some agreement and incurring the wrath of the school.
Worse, even when children have their own laptop, the school’s VPN requires Microsoft’s Remote Desktop – and in my experience, no version other than the one running on Windows will actually work.
I seem to remember a huge furore over junk food and soft drink vending machines in schools – why the hell are people not more angry at how RM and the rest have co-opted the entire educational IT ecosystem? I hope RaspberryPi gets all the success it deserves, but I suspect that there’s now a whole “lost generation” out there who think that “programming” means selecting check-boxes in one of Office’s dialog boxes.