What is the impact of compulsory computing lessons?

As the need for workers with technical skills such as coding and programming increases, the pressure is on for schools to provide students with training to prepare them for the workplace. But what is the impact of introducing compulsory computer science lessons?

Since September 2014, the UK government have introduced computing to the National Curriculum, meaning that children as young as five are now being taught coding lessons. Teachers have been tasked with preparing lessons that engage and educate children on the basics of programming, including algorithms, debugging and programming languages. But for tens of thousands of primary school teachers who may be new to programming themselves that has meant a significant amount of training has been required.

Interestingly, the change has received huge support from the children and their parents alike, with recent research revealing that 75 per cent of pre-teen children would rather learn a coding language than French, and 60 per cent of parents favouring children being taught coding language Python over French lessons.

Read: Teaching girls to code with a bracelet

In fact, computing saw the biggest jump in entrants for GCSEs in 2015, rising by 111 per cent on last year, while humanities took a huge plunge in the number of candidates.

However, it’s possible that this move is down to the fact that computing is now seen as an ‘easy option’ by 53 per cent of 16-year-old, according to the Ocado research. But Paul Clarke, head of technology at Ocado, thinks that this is wrong and reflects a “wider issue” in the UK of computer science “not being treated as the serious engineering discipline that it undoubtedly is”.

“The irony is that this is at a time when we are facing a massive shortfall in the number of software engineers and IT specialists who will be required to help build out the UK’s digital economy,” he said.

But while computing is performing well in terms of the number of teenagers gaining qualifications in the subject, it’s a different story for foreign languages, which seems to be suffering a lack of interest as a result. The number of candidates opting to take French at GCSE was down by 6.2 per cent compared with 2014, while there was a 9.8 per cent drop in German exams. Even Spanish, which has seen massive increases over the last 20 years, also saw a decline of 2.4 per cent in the past year.

Read: How should girls be encouraged into STEM subjects?

“It’s disappointing to see this year’s overall decline in the number of language GCSEs,” Vicky Gough, schools adviser at the British Council told the Telegraph. “While it is good to see that the number of Spanish entries on the whole has more than doubled in the past two decades, the general rise in Spanish that we have witnessed in recent years now appears to have stalled. This is particularly worrying given that Spanish has been recognised as the language the UK needs the most.

“The reality is that as this general decline continues, the UK risks falling behind on the world stage.”

The real impact, of course, will only show in time as these teenagers grow up and become the workers. But is the introduction of compulsory computing lessons going to lead us to a workforce who can code in Python but lack the skills to communicate in global markets?

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