Wednesday, January 11, 2012


It's with great delight I read today that ICT, the subject intended to educate children about information technology, is to be scrapped. The government announced that it is to be replaced by a proper computer science course, one that actually teaches something intellectually challenging and central, i.e. programming (shock horror!).

As some of my scientist friends remind me (often) computer science isn't really "science", particularly if you limit your definition of science to mean only activities that study nature. I think it's reasonable to say that computer science, like mathematics and engineering is applied science in this sense, although some of the work done on language processing is border line IMO. Anyway, regardless of the definition the challenge that businesses in the UK have is a chronic shortage of good quality school leavers and graduates who understand how to make computers do things outside of the narrow scope of existing applications like Microsoft Excel; ICT today is a bit like studying English literature without ever writing a story of your own, i.e. fine if everyone aspires to become book critics but pretty useless for generating the next J.K. Rowling.

Computers are unique and special tools, whereas most other tools enhance our physical capabilities, for example, telescopes allow us to see further than eyes, cranes lift weights our muscles cannot etc. computers extend our most valuable biological asset, the human brain. Just like brains, it's the plasticity of computers and their ability to solve many different problems through different programming that gives them their power, but this power can only be leveraged to solve previously unsolved problems if you actually understand how to program. Let's hope that these changes address this important issue and open up such possibilities to all children should they wish to take them.

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