Teachers need more support if digital curriculum is to have a point

I was reading an article yesterday designed to reassure teachers about the new digital curriculum. The article said, in effect, “Don’t worry, you don’t need to understand coding to teach the curriculum” and then went on to give some examples of activities which fulfill the aims of the curriculum without involving understanding coding. So, for example, you could assign your students a research project on the development of WiFi.

Now I understand that the introduction of a new curriculum is going to be frightening. I also understand that many teachers, primary teachers in particular, chose their profession because it was not technical. And I get that teachers already have a full workload. But I’m having a hard time coming at the idea that it’s acceptable to be finding ways around the better educational outcome just because that’s the reassuringly easy way out.

Imagine substituting the words ‘maths’, ‘english’, or ‘art’ for the word ‘coding’: “don’t worry you don’t need to understand [insert traditional subject here] to teach the curriculum”. To whatever extent that might reassure teachers as a body, it doesn’t reassure me as a parent.

Imagine when the time comes for students to be taught art, they were just assigned a research topic on Salvador Dali and that was considered enough to get through. And then, to make things worse, imagine that at the next school over there is a teacher who is actually teaching the kids to draw. Which school would you rather your kids were in?

Now return to the digital technologies curriculum and consider why we would introduce a new curriculum without making very sure that teachers have the resources to teach it and that there is a likelihood that most students will complete it with a similar set of useful outcomes. I don’t understand the point.

One of the underlying problems is that the digital technologies curriculum allows for a series of easy outs rather than teaching coding or even computational thinking. I’ve always hated that about the curriculum; but, as implementation looms, it becomes ever clearer that we’re going to end up with a two-track system. The horror here is that rather than narrowing the digital divide, this is going to widen it. If kids are lucky enough to hit a knowledgeable teacher they will come out with some idea of how the world works and how to control it – otherwise a box will have been ticked.

Hasn’t this always been so? Well only up to a point. With English, Maths, Art, and so on teachers were not only exposed to the subjects at university, they are the product of a system that taught those subjects. So any teacher as an adult who went through the school system intrinsically knows some Maths, English and Art. That is not the case with coding or other parts of the new curriculum – the teachers are absolutely not a step ahead of the students.

I’m not attacking teachers here. I am saying that teachers need to be provided with a lot more support and training if there’s to be any point to this whole exercise. There simply aren’t shortcuts to achieving a productive outcome; and I’d rather see more articles explaining how to deal with what will be a tough exercise in learning a new skill, than reassuring articles explaining how to make the process easier.

Image: XKCD.

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