New scheme promotes IT in the classroom

Students at CFGS are taking part in the Apps For Good scheme Pic: CDI Europe

A new initiative to encourage more young people to take up IT and science courses has been launched at the Central Foundation Girls School (CFGS) in Tower Hamlets. The scheme, led by e-skills UK in partnership with IBM, Cisco, RIM (manufacturers of Blackberry), Facebook and the Metropolitan Police Service, was unveiled by David Willetts, Minister for Universities and Science.

The aim of the programme, called ‘Behind the Screen’, is to establish a new academic curriculum, where GCSEs and A Levels cover computational principles, systemic thinking, software development and logic.

Karen Price, CEO of e-skills UK, said: “Young people are digital natives yet experience shows that they are being turned off IT study and IT careers in the classroom. For example, applicants to computer-related degrees have declined by 44 per cent since 2001. Our goal is to place IT at the spearhead for a new model of academia/industry partnership in schools, and create a new generation of technologists who invent, innovate, and become the entrepreneurs of tomorrow.”

Stephen Leonard, chief executive of IBM UK & Ireland and an e-Skills UK board member, added: “We are long overdue a completely new approach to teaching IT as a subject. With our work, we will make IT inspiring to young people and put the UK on the world stage in educating the technologists of the future. We are putting the weight of industry behind a transformation in education, working with schools and universities to create courses of academic substance and industry relevance.”

CFGS is also leading the drive to get more schools in the area linked with the tech giants and improve results in science and maths. Speaking to the East London Advertiser, Mr Willetts said: “It is crucial for young people to have the skills to bid for decent tech jobs. Technology and digital companies will play a central role in securing our economic future.”

However, the scheme has come under criticism. Mark Taylor, chief executive of Sirius IT, an open-source company, said the scheme favoured proprietary technologies and promoted the marketing aims of North American technology giants. In an interview with ZDNet UK, he said: “Of course we should encourage young people in the UK to choose technology as a career path, but we should be training them using principles, not products, with full access to actual workings through open source, not black boxes with proprietary (software).

“If the government were serious about the UK having its own tech industry, it would promote open and home-grown, not train yet another generation to use products built elsewhere.”

Social networking site Facebook has already launched a course at CFGS in collaboration with Apps for Good, an organisation that aims to encourage young people to use technology to tackle problems for social good. Mohima Ahmed, 16, is one of the girls in the first group of 14-17 year olds currently using Apps for Good. She said: “Our app is an English-to-Bengali translator, which is aimed at helping with parent-to-teacher conferences. It’s quite basic at the moment, carrying a stock range of phrases, but we are hoping to expand on it.

“We are really pleased with it as the brief was to design an app with a community benefit. Living in Tower Hamlets as the children of first-generation Bengali immigrants many who don’t have good English, there is a real need for it and it addresses a real problem. Making the apps has also been really good for helping our confidence.”

A spokesman for Apps for Good said: “Initiatives like the Facebook Apps for Good course are good for young people as it allows them to gain skills which can be used in the technology sector, while solving problems.  Apps for Good believes that young people need to be given a chance, learning how to create Facebook applications will have a positive impact on their chosen careers.”

A pilot scheme that will help test a new GCSE concept will be run from November this year through to June 2012 involving 20 schools, 100 students and a group of teachers who have volunteered to take part in the trial.

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