( Post 17 of 25 )
The inspiration for this post comes from my last job. My boss at my last agency role was really passionate about improving the way that ICT (an extended synonym of IT to include Communications) is taught in the Welsh education sector, in primary and secondary schools. In fact, he co-chaired a Steering Group tasked with “[considering] the future of computer science and ICT in schools in Wales” – you can read their report here.
Inspired by this, I spoke to three sets of people who are closely involved with ICT in schools – two projects tasked with running workshops for pupils and a company that provides tech training for teachers. IT/ICT has come a long way since many of us reading this were in school, and some really cool things are going on these days…
Technocamps is a project led by Swansea University – but also in partnership with Aberystwyth University, Bangor University and the University of South Wales – aimed at delivering workshops across Wales on programming, app development, games development, robotics and other computing-related subjects. I spoke to Professor Faron Moller (Director of Technocamps) and Stewart Powell (Workshop Developer) about the work that they do…
What is Technocamps?
Technocamps is a schools outreach programme based in the Computer Science Department at Swansea University. It was established in 2003, and through the years has received financial support from a variety of companies and organisations including Welsh Government (WG), European Social Fund (ESF), National Science Academy (NSA) and NESTA (National Endowment for Science, Technology and the Arts). In 2010 Technocamps established hubs at Aberystwyth University, Bangor University and the University of South Wales Glamorgan; and in 2014 added hubs at Glyndŵr University Wrexham and Cardiff Metropolitan University.
When and why was it conceived?
In the early 1980s, the BBC Micro was introduced to schools throughout Britain, and before long they were in 80% of UK classrooms. By encouraging young learners to experiment with computers, a generation of creative talent was spawned. Applications to study computer science at university hit a peak, and computer science graduates changed the world as they helped computers come to dominate every aspect of our lives.
65% of IT teachers in the UK do not have a relevant qualification but have slipped into the role of IT teacher simply by being digitally literate.
Fast forward 30 years and the situation could not be any more different. The computer is no longer a novelty. Children spend more time at home in front of a computer screen than a TV screen, but like the TV, their interest is restricted to using the computer, not in experimenting with it. Digital literacy is rightly emphasised throughout the school curriculum, but computer studies itself has evolved into IT studies with an emphasis on office skills – much duller than the social networking and gaming for which the pupils use their home computers. 65% of IT teachers in the UK do not have a relevant qualification but have slipped into the role of IT teacher simply by being digitally literate. Applications to study computer science at university slumped – especially amongst females – with a 40% drop in applicants over the first five years of the 21st century, and many of those who start a university computer science course drop out during the first year as they are unaware of what computer science is.
To address this dire situation, Technocamps was started in 2003 at Swansea University as an outreach programme for schools and colleges, with a grand political ambition of getting computer studies in schools back on track. As an active voluntary activity, it enjoyed great success, but only on a very small and very local scale. In order to expand its operation in scale and reach, a European Social Fund (ESF) project was created in partnership with the Universities of Aberystwyth and Bangor and the University of South Wales in Glamorgan. (The ambition was to include all of Wales, with hubs also in Wrexham and Cardiff, but ESF funding restrictions meant that this project could only be delivered in the Convergence area of Wales, as well as only to secondary school children.) This 4-year project ended in September 2014, having engaged with some 10,000 young people. During this period, various other Technocamps initiatives were started through other funding bodies, including Playground Computing (for primary schools) and Technoteach (for teachers at all levels).