I’ve been thinking a lot about the future of computing education recently. My co-founder Rebecca Franks attended the presentation of the SCARI computing report on the Future of Computing Education which calls for a much needed change to KS4 Computing (age 14-16) in the UK. Meanwhile, I was attending one of several university computer science open days with my son. My overwhelming reaction is that computing at university is a diverse subject with huge breadth whereas computer science at GCSE and A-level is far less engaging and relevant and seems likely to dissuade many who would really enjoy computing at university.

COMPUTING AT UNIVERSITY

Computer science has moved on at university since I studied it, many years ago. The Shadbolt review of 2016 highlighted the need for change in universities leading to stronger preparation for careers in industry including software engineering and professional skills. Cybersecurity and data science are now common courses and specialisms on computer science degrees. Machine learning is now strongly adopted in universities (often with an appropriate consideration of other approaches to AI).  I think there’s some work to do on the relationship between ‘maths’ and computer science and also to increase the importance of the theory underpinning software development practices and domain analysis skills. But broadly, visiting university computer science departments made me love my subject even more.

COMPUTING AT SCHOOL

Computer Science GCSE on the other hand seems to be targeting an old-fashioned version of computer science that doesn’t really exist any more. Computing at KS4 (age 14-16)  shouldn’t just be about preparing students for university but at the moment I don’t think it even does that, and if it did then it would be a step in the right direction! At the open days I attended I saw everything from the most theoretical computer science degrees (which are appropriate for some students), through specialisms in software engineering, data science, machine learning, computer vision, game design and creative computing and links to philosophy as well as other STEM subjects – sometimes many of these in the same department. I don’t know how young people would understand the breadth of computing on offer from their KS4 experience.

CHANGING COMPUTING AT SCHOOL

I’ve long held the view that girls and other underrepresented groups are rejecting a version of computing and computer science that doesn’t match the reality in industry or academia. I believe that a lot of them would love the world of computing that I have experienced. At KS4, we need to change the subject, not the young people. We need their diversity and range of perspectives.