How cloud computing could play a part in schools' ICT plans

The new proposals for ICT for schools could mean opportunities for Virtual Cloudsviders

The government wants to get rid of boring IT lessons. It's a worthy aim but it does raise some interesting questions. Are school lessons meant to be interesting? If ICT is boring, there are plenty of other
candidates, I still can't get the horror of rote-learning Latin irregular verbs out of my mind.

There's a universal agreement that the overhaul of lessons is to be commended, teaching kids how to use Excel and Word has little to do with IT and there's certainly a sense that some creative kids are finding the process limiting.

It's easy to say what's wrong, it's not so easy to say what's right. I've already seen objections that teaching kids to code is not the way to proceed because some children aren't into computers – a spurious argument, some kids aren't into language  or maths or poetry; should we therefore stop teaching French, algebra or Shakespeare?

A more convincing argument is that teaching coding is only half the story, the pupils also need to learn something about the logical processes involved. I still recall going to France for the first time and realising that knowing my declension of irregular verbs perfectly wasn't actually helping me be understood.

Then there's the reported involvement of big companies like Microsoft,
IBM, Google in the process – I must confess that this was my first thought too – although the signal is that there will be much more open source involved.

There’s also the big issue of where the teachers are going to come from. At the moment, many of the ICT classes are being taught by non-specialist teachers – education is not an over-burdened with IT skills: Quis dociet magistros ipsos? (just  to show that the Latin lessons weren’t useless) . This is an issue that has been raised by the Royal Society in its own report on schools’ IT teaching.

Professor Steve Furber, fellow of the Royal Society and chair of the report, says: “The most significant factor affecting how well young people learn is the teacher in their classroom.  The majority of teachers are specialists, but ICT is an exception to the rule.  Our study found some fantastic examples of teaching, but …  the majority of teachers are not specialists and we heard from young people that they often knew more than the teacher giving the lesson.  Action is needed not only on the curriculum itself, but also to recruit and train many more inspiring teachers to reinvigorate pupils’ enthusiasm for computing.”

On top of the problem with finding teachers, there’s the issue of cost. What additional costs will be borne by expanding the repertoire? At a time of cost-cutting all round, there’s going to be uncertainty here.

I wrote last week about how cloud computing could invigorate education and this is an ideal opportunity to bring some of the principles of cloud into the classroom. 

As I mentioned last time, there's a skill shortage and, while I don't expect schools to start using Open Stack or Cloud Foundry, nor Azure or EC2 -  or even  learning how to handle virtualisation, there are other opportunities. Cloud computing will offer a way to some enterprise computing to the classroom and will certainly provide a way to reduce costs.

In many respects, it's going back to some educational basics. Computing lessons at my school, in those days before PCs and the BBC micro, were held at the local technical college where we'd crowd around a couple of terminals linked up to the local university - somewhere in my pile of school stuff, I still have a couple of punchcards from those days.

We shall see what the ICT proposals will bring but let's hope they capture the magic of those days when we first gasped at the possibilities of what computing could offer us. Children have an amazing capacity for learning and the ICT plans could set the blueprint for an innovative future.

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