Serif in Education

The Computing curriculum – too easy, too difficult, or just right?

An interesting study came out last week, commissioned by Ocado Technology, the online retailer’s technology division. One year on from the introduction of the new Computing curriculum in the UK, it surveyed 1,000 primary school age children, 1,000 secondary school age children and 1,000 parents in order to assess its progress.

Firstly, it found that six out of 10 parents would prefer their children to learn the coding language Python than French, a core subject in many schools. Three-quarters of the primary school children surveyed said that, if offered the choice, they would rather learn how to programme a robot than learn French.

But here comes the most interesting bit – while enthusiasm is high at primary-school level, the survey revealed that interest in computing drops away by the time pupils reach secondary school. More than half of secondary students listed the Computer Science GCSE as an “easy option”. (We looked into this further and ‘more than half’ was actually closer to ‘just over half’ at 53%.)

But, with many conflicting reports saying children actually see Computing as too difficult, does the UK need to work harder to change perceptions and encourage students to take the subject seriously, or do we just need to spread the word that actually, it is neither difficult nor easy – it is creative and even fun!

Creativity is something that featured highly in the last curriculum, and something that the Government was keen not to lose in the new one. And that is for good reason. The Creative Computing guide from the Harvard Graduate School of Education (by Karen Brennan, Christan Balch and Michelle Chung) has a fantastic explanation of why creativity is so important in Computing, and why we need to continue to encourage creativity in the classroom. 

“Computer science and computing-related fields have long been introduced to young people in a way that is disconnected from their interests and values – emphasizing technical detail over creative potential. Creative computing supports the development of personal connections to computing, by drawing upon creativity, imagination, and interests.

“Many young people with access to computers participate as consumers, rather than designers or creators. Creative computing emphasizes the knowledge, practices, and fundamental literacies that young people need to create the types of dynamic and interactive computational media that they enjoy in their daily lives.

Engaging in the creation of computational artifacts prepares young people for more than careers as computer scientists or programmers. It supports young people’s development as computational thinkers – individuals who

can draw on computational concepts, practices, and perspectives in all aspects of their lives, across disciplines and contexts.”

Is Computing either easy or difficult? Or can it be just different? French and the coding language Python are taught for two very different purposes – the only way we can determine how important they are is by assessing the individual student, their interests, their lifestyle and their future career.

But we do need to fill the digital skills gap, and one of the key ways we think we do that is by encouraging students to see that in Computing, they have the opportunity to truly flex their creative muscles and creative the kinds of thing that they find fascinating (computer games, apps, music devices) in their working lives. How cool would that be, to truly combine work with play?

To make sure teachers don’t find it too difficult to introduce creativity into the new curriculum, here at Serif we offer a variety of different teaching resources – all for free). We know the start of a new term is always a busy time, so teachers might like these quick and easy video tutorials that can help with things like creating vector graphics, to editing videos: