Responding to the challenges of teaching Computing: Creativity is key

Digital Schoolhouse, delivered by Ukie, the only trade body for the UK's games and interactive entertainment industry, uses play-based learning to engage the next generation of pupils and teachers with the new Computing curriculum. In September, it brought together educators, businesses, students and public sector professionals to discuss the digital skills gap. 

Here, Shahneila Saeed, director of Digital Schoolhouse, considers the lessons learned from the panel discussion and what can now be done to support teachers in delivering a curriculum that will encourage students to aspire to careers in related industries.

According to a poll conducted by YouGov and IT consultancy BJSS, two third of teachers across the state and independent sector feel they cannot effectively teach coding to children aged eight to 15. The risk is that teachers who don’t feel confident in their abilities or their knowledge of the content are more likely to deliver lessons that fail to inspire students or encourage them to continue to develop their computing skills past GCSE. As a result, the digital skills gap widens, and teachers face even more pressure.

At the Digital Schoolhouse Back2School panel debate in September, one of the recurring themes was that teachers and students alike agreed that children arrive at secondary school having learned very little about computers and programming. They may be able to use an iPad better than the adults, but they lack the background knowledge of how it works and more importantly, the interest in learning beyond user experience. 

Navita Pandya, deputy head teacher of Townley Grammar School, explained that we need to admit that computing at our primary schools “isn’t as effective as we would like it to be.” The problem then continues into secondary, because students are new to the subject and are being taught by teachers that don’t have the support or confidence to deliver exciting lessons. shahneila saeed

When asked why she thought her friends didn’t engage with computer science, Roseanna, Year 8 at Townley Grammar School said: “I don’t think they see the creative side in computer science. But you can programme games and design as well as just the academic side.” 

A creative solution

Since the September panel discussion, the Digital Schoolhouse initiative has expanded, with a significant launch in Northern Ireland (10 November) and more schools joining the programme, totally 30 overall.  

St. Malachys High School hosted the Northern Ireland launch and its lead teachers will work with other Digital Schoolhouse secondary schools, Ballyclare and De La Salle, to support local feeder primary schools and bring the creative computing programme initiative to Northern Ireland. They will each host 24 of these primary schools to give over 1800 pupils the experience of Digital Schoolhouse resources.

The initiative has grown rapidly since its origins as a regional programme through the Mayor of London, and the concerns raised by teachers, students, industry professionals and local government during the panel discussion only cements the need to develop computational thinking skills in a more effective way to support a 21st Century education.

Peter Oliver, head of PR at SEGA said: “We need to be more involved with schools directly and industry needs to be more actively partnering with schools everywhere.”

This is a sentiment that industries and education need to work closely together was strongly supported through the panel discussion by all players in the sector, including joint managing director at Warwickshire County Council, Monica Fogarty, who expressed the need to bring “big business players on side” to narrow the digital skills gap seen when students leave education for the work force.

Creative approaches to teaching computing should therefore be conducted in parallel to inspirational career guidance and as such, the UKs first ever schools’ esports tournament has returned for a second year and is taking place at over 20 schools, each competing for a place in the Grand Final which takes place in April 2018.

The Esports Tournament is an immersive careers event designed to engage students with the skills and careers in the games industry by working with business partners. As well as competing with one another using the popular game by Blizzard, ‘Overwatch’, students will benefit from inspirational talks by industry professionals and network opportunities to speak to them one-to-one about the careers available within the industry. 

What’s next?

Understanding what support teachers need is crucial in addressing the digital skills gap. It isn’t a question of competency, but more a question of opportunity, and getting involved with the non-profit initiatives available to them will build teachers’ skills and confidence, as well as the interest of their students. Ultimately, the aim is to prepare students today for the jobs of tomorrow. 

Joseph, Year 9 student at Gildredge House, summarised it perfectly at the September panel discussion when he said: “Computer science. That’s the future. That’s what will make what we do every day in the future.”