Primary education: listening and observing
Primary education: listening and observing

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2.1 Why learn about computing?

While the introduction of computing into the primary school curriculum has been welcomed by many, some question the value of it.

One criticism is that it isn’t necessary for all children to learn computing, because only a fraction of children will go on to become computer programmers.

This idea is based on a commonly held misconception that computing is just about learning to program or to code. In fact, computing is about problem solving, thinking analytically, and finding ways to tackle complex tasks creatively or efficiently. These skills are transferable to many aspects of life and learning.

There is also an economic argument for studying computing. Livingstone and Hope’s Next Gen. report (2011) focused on the importance of high-tech and creative industries in the UK and other countries’ economies. Even in 2011, the UK video game sector alone was worth over two billion pounds. The authors believed that the UK’s position as a leader in technology, innovation and creativity was at risk due to a skills gap. They argued that schools need to fill this gap by equipping the next generation of young people with the knowledge and skills necessary for these industries. Their solution? That computing should be in the school curriculum.

Transferable skills and economic arguments aside, there is almost no aspect of life today that is not touched by technology: we use it for working, socialising, studying, shopping, accessing healthcare, playing, travelling and communicating.

An overriding argument for including computing in the curriculum is about equity and social justice. If we don’t equip all children with the skills to use technology in an informed way, and the knowledge and skills to influence what the technology is, what it does and how it is used, we are denying children an opportunity.

Liukas (2015) argues that we need to imagine ‘a world where the stories we tell about how things get made don’t only include the twentysomething-year-old Silicon Valley boys’ and Naughton (2012) said that without educating children about computing we will ‘be breeding generations of hamsters for the glittering wheels of cages built by (Facebook founder) Mark Zuckerberg and his kind’. The inventor of the World Wide Web agrees:

I want you to know that you too can make new programs which create new fun ways of using computers and using the Internet. I want you to realize that, if you can imagine a computer doing something, you can program a computer to do that. Unbounded opportunity … limited only by your imagination. And a couple of laws of physics.

(Tim Berners-Lee, n.d.)

Consider the following questions:

  • What do you know about computing?
  • How would you go about convincing others – children, parents or teachers – that computing is important?

As you learned earlier, computing is a relatively new addition to the primary curriculum in many countries. What they have in common is a focus on two key areas of computing: computational thinking and coding. These form the basics of much of children’s initial learning about computing or computer science.

In the next activities you will learn about children and coding, and about children and computational thinking.

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