Wired reports that Apple, Microsoft and Google are muscling their way into British classrooms, but rather than alarm at industry interference, teachers are welcoming their support. Why? They’re desperate for good computing course materials.
That’s why, two years into the new computing curriculum, teachers are almost uniformly enthusiastic that Apple has extended its Everyone Can Code educational programme. Launched last year in the US, it’s now at 70 schools and colleges across Europe, including 16 universities, colleges, and secondary schools in the UK. It’s a pretty simple scheme: Apple provides a free iBook textbook on app development with Swift, Apple’s own coding language,, alongside guides for teachers. It’s essentially a textbook on making iOS apps — but one that requires an iPad to read.
That said, it’s a textbook gratefully received by British teachers desperate for better computing materials, according to Bill Mitchell, director of public affairs at the British Computer Society (BCS), the body that represents people working in IT. That’s because the new computing curriculum remains “patchy” and “fragile,” he says — meaning that help from any quarter is welcomed, even if it is limited by hardware.
Getting help isn’t easy. Research last year from the National Education Union reveals that 94 per cent of teachers have had to pay for school supplies including books, while a report from the Royal Society called for a tenfold boost in cash for teacher training, with England recruiting only 68 per cent of the targeted number of computing teachers. No wonder then that a third of English GCSE pupils go to a school that doesn’t offer the Computer Science GCSE – potentially exacerbating the already looming tech skills gap.
While the government has promised £100 million for training computing teachers, many are taking it upon themselves, sharing materials and tips via forums such as the BCS Computing at Schools, Twitter chats, and other support networks – as well as welcoming help from the tech industry.
Apple is by no means the first tech giant to dole out support to teachers. BT sponsors Barefoot Computing, which is used by half of primary schools in the UK, Mitchell said. Microsoft has multiple schools programmes to help boost teacher skills and “integrate technology into the classroom”, and Google has awarded grants to Raspberry Pi and supports a wide variety of coding programmes. All offer free teacher training on their products. Facebook also recently unveiled plans to train a million Europeans in digital skills by 2020.
Whether it’s Apple’s iOS course or MIT’s code-with-blocks Scratch game, do any of these coding games and tools actually help students with their coursework? We don’t really know. And that’s a problem.”We’ve been teaching this really badly for years,” says Kate Farrell, a computing science teacher at a trio of schools in Edinburgh and former head of Computing for Schools in Scotland. “Industry is falling into the same traps that schools and colleges have been.”
Core to the problem, she adds, is that so many of the coding tools do little more than offer step-by-step tutorials. “That’s not how people learn.” Instead, students need to be able to explore, break code in order to fix it, read what code they’re producing, and more – and many such programmes lack that flexibility. “Educators can work better with industry to make sure we get the research-based pedagogy of how do we teach this better rather than just jump straight to code,” Farrell says.
Does your school use Apple’s educational programme? Or is Apple just it too expensive to use? With so many tech giant programmes to choose from, how does the school decide? Please tell us your thoughts in comments or via Twitter ~ Tamsin
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