What Exactly Are Schools Really Teaching Anyway? (Rant Series 1, Episode 2)

RANT-SERIES

I welcome you all with the smell of fine apples hanging over the borders of Shady Shenanigan. The thirst of the princely purple wine made of grapes and oranges. A pale blue text written in bold character, emphasised over a white background in a 480×360 layer of a Photoshop CS6 file window saying “Welcome!”. You just don’t step into my world without a taste of my idiosyncrasy!

Welcome to the second episode of my Rant series. Of course, this is still series 1 titled: Computers, Computing and Technology, in which we look at the several misconceptions and misunderstandings that surround these concepts.  In case you missed episode one, here it is: http://goo.gl/1OWJLb.

Like I mentioned in episode one, this ranting now has to do with what exactly do schools teach about computing?

Nowadays when it gets to the topic of Computing and Coding you see so many blog writers and even debate networks getting hyperactive, vomiting gibberish and their audience being the berks, gulp in these half-baked postulations.

When it comes to the education of students in Computer Science, or Computing, or Coding, or IT; whatever they feel they want to name it, you see a lot of debate from education blogs, even institutions, and academia.

The usual persons of interest and suspects as we know them have all, in one way or the other, weighed in and contributed to the heat of such “outrageous”, and sometimes “just-for-the-purpose” debate.

If you’ve followed and listened carefully, you’ll see that there exist two kinds of these individuals.

There are those that consider Computational Thinking and Computer Science to be the actual purpose and underlying support of modern/contemporary education. They argue that without the ability to fully comprehend the Halting problem, no child could ever tie their own shoelaces without entering some sort of bizarre shoelace-tying infinite loop. What a bunch of ignorants!

Then you would also come across those that boldly argue it is impossible for a student to understand any abstract Computer Science problem. In fact, children are incapable of writing code, finding an “ON” switch, or even manage to pronounce the words on a “C” is for “Computer” nursery school flash car. They make the case like they could read the brain of every child around the globe. That you were dumb as a child doesnt mean other children would be dumb also! They make the case that we should all give up now and go back to making pretty pictures in Paint. Well, at least, they can use a Windows tool. Another, but more severe, bunch of ignorants.

These arguments, most often than not, appear to have its foundation in the underlying focus as to what name we should give these subjects. While this might be a valid argument (the name of subjects sometimes affect the way students think about it), I think at the moment it means very little. From a child’s early years we teach them what we think is necessary that they should know and during the latter years, we become subject to the whims of exam boards and organisations such as EPSB (Education Professional Standards Board).

Now if I were a person of great influence, I would propose a radical reform to the name given to the subjects: Computer Science, or Coding, or Computing, or IT, or even ICT. Why do we even have to give these so-much-big names to primary and secondary school subjects, when its just how to use Microsoft Windows and Office the students get to learn at the end of the day?! This is a conscious and outright abuse of those names, punishable by law. Well, I dont even know if there’s any law that supports this kind of accusation

However, with that being said, I will hope that the proposal will help clear things finally, and prevent any future unnecessary argument, bullying, and backbiting. From this day forward, those above named subjects should be referred to as “Getting Shit Done With A Computer”. Well, if that sounds way off line for a subject name, then you might consider “Solving Real World Problems” or “Our Everyday Problems”.

This is because, at the end of the day, this is exactly what they teach students to do. Especially, how to use Microsoft Windows, Office, or any other computing machine out there to get shit done and solve their daily problems. Regardless of what you call the subject, this is always what they would teach students: how to get shit done with a computer, as that’s what I think students actually need to know.

The name alone open doors for several possibilities. Today, students are taught Maths in school. Maths they would never understand how its applied in the real world. No knowledge is wasted, they say. Math helps to sharpen the brain, they also say. Of course, these might be true but when you have the chance why not strive to only teach relevant subjects? A subject like “Solving Real World Problems” can now have under it, the application of Maths and use of computers in the real world to solve our daily problems. Now, that’s a good subject that every school should design for their students.

Consequently, there’s also the argument I always make, that secondary schools should allow for more specialisation, so students of different fields (take Computer Science for example), can be taught the indepth foundation of such field. This opens their brains and minds to fully understand the in toto of such field. Wait let me google that for you. Here you go. Now when they graduate from secondary school to advanced level schools or tertiary institutions, they know what they are actually getting into, they know what to expect, and learning more complex topics is not difficult.

But, of course, they always want to make schooling seem difficult.

If I were a teacher, why wouldn’t I like my students to be able to recognise when the cable has been removed from the Ethernet port, and understand the reason why they have no network connection. I would like my students to understand the basics of a file system and how to navigate it. I would also like them to be able to use a spreadsheet, operate a database and write up a project. I want them to be able to choose the right tools for the right job. I would want them to be able to understand the foundational/basic idea of computers (regardless of the OS).

Somewhere along the way, they get to learn a little Boolean logic, some binary and maybe Big O notation. This isn’t just high flung theory with no practical use though. I recognise that when you want to get serious shit done with a computer, these are important concepts to have at hand.

When all is said and done, if we could just lose the pathetic tribal mentality that causes some of us to identify with the moniker Teacher of Computer Science, or Teacher of Computing, or Teacher of IT, the students would benefit in the end, and we could all just get some shit done using our computers, and maybe we can reduce the idea that Computer Science is all about Microsoft Windows and Macintosh OS.

This rant was inspired by what I see in today’s education system almost around the globe. But the contents thereof, are similar to the write up by Matt Scott of Coding2Learn. His exact words were used in several sections of this rant.

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