ICT in schools

I was reading about ICT in schools today, and pondered my past experience, i had a privileged experience but in many ways also a pretty crap experience of IT while at schools, so I thought to give my tuppence on the subject…..

My days of school ICT was spent on a BBC Master or an Acorn Archimedes. During this time I ‘learned’ about word processors, spreadsheets, and databases.  The Internet had not yet gained universal awareness and I was lucky enough to have a 386sx25 in 1991. By 1993, I was dialling-up HENSA at Lancaster University and BT Gold using my 2400 baud modem (gained when everyone else had 14.4k modems).

While I learned the basics of computer based ‘office-work’, they never taught me about computing. I got into a lot of trouble for my ‘shift-break’ naughtiness using my knowledge of basic to post infinite loops of questionable messages. The funniest being at 6th form and setting all the machines to say “Haroooooooooooon!” in honour of my mate was into computers and who’s name become the startup sound for all the machines! lol. I wouldn’t do that now, it’s too childish, but my it was funny at the time.

When I finally graduated from University, with a degree in software engineering, I realised what schools were missing. What I come to realise was that it was the maths which caused me to gain a greater understanding of the ‘universe’, not the ephemeral languages, and techonogies which all pass in fads over time, but what is universal behind all that is the math.

What is missing from school ICT isn’t so much the ‘raspberry-pi’, but it is an introduction to logic and formal proof. It is a given that we have general purpose machines which will allow us to model reality in a virtual sense in order to enact a real-world function. Simply teaching Microsoft Office isn’t enough.

I  recall thanking my uni maths teacher, Robert Lowe (Coventry University), as his teachings while ‘boring’ at the time, turned out to be the most useful knowledge I have ever possessed, simply knowing truth from non truth.

Children need to learn at an earlier age, base 2 math, binary. This is an important introduction into mathematical truth, the ‘proof’ being 1 or 0, true or false. While I don’t expect children to proof literary statements, it would be advantageous if they at least knew de-morgan’s law.

Once the student knows about logic and what a computer can do in terms of logic cases, then it becomes possible for the student to grasp the capabilities of the hardware and realise the software possibilities within realistic terms.

The other greater benefit is the introduction of what is truth, what is false, and most importantly the differentiation of  one-way truths. This enables the student with a soft-skill knowledge which allows them to differentiate the truth better, and that enables better decision making in all future cases as a sense of truth is universal.

It turns out that the truth can indeed be calculated mathematically. It is primarily for this reason that I believe that 15+ year olds should be exposed to binary and logic. A curriculum which includes addition, multiplication, division, and subtraction for the advanced. It should conclude in de-morgan’s law and a light introduction to finite-state automata for the advanced (e.g. a ‘traffic-light’ system). I don’t believe that these concepts are beyond the average teen-age person.

This would nurture an enlightened society by addressing the basic sense of logic and truth and this can only be good. While it may not seem creative for some, it is the foundation of creativity in an ever-evolving world.

I urge all science and maths teachers to embrace binary as a fundamental concept for teenagers wordwide.

If you know someone involved with school maths, science, or ICT – show them this post! – there’s more to computing than office apps!


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