UK teachers are free to choose open source curriculum

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Teaching open source text

The UK Department of Education has confirmed that information and communications technology (ICT) lessons that teach children how to use Microsoft Word and PowerPoint will soon be more open.

Starting September 2012, computer teachers will be given “the freedom and flexibility to design an ICT curriculum that is best for their pupils,” says Michael Gove, Department of Education secretary. This means teachers can change the curriculum to teach open source if they prefer.

Ian Livingstone, computer games entrepreneur and advisor to Mr. Gove, was quoted by the BBC, saying “The current lessons are essentially irrelevant to today’s generation of children who can learn PowerPoint in a week.” He goes on to say, “It’s a travesty...children are being forced to learn how to use applications, rather than to make them. They are becoming slaves to the user interface and are totally bored by it.”

Those with concerns over the change believe there is a shortage of teachers qualified to deliver the new curriculum.

Quoting Gail Sheehy, I'd say, “Growth demands a temporary surrender of security.” What’s your response to this news?


  1. BBC, School ICT to be replaced by computer science programme:
  2. Gamasutra, UK computing lessons scrapped in favor of 'open source' approach
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Mary Ann Bitter is a Creative Strategist for Red Hat's Marketing Communications & Design team. She lives at the intersection of business and design and believes the open source values have never been more relevant than they are today.  She is passionate about problem solving and working with people who give a damn.


"<em>Slaves to the user interface</em>" &larr; This.

I despise computer applications courses that teach students "how to use tools". I've taken them, and they are a miserable experience.

These classes should not be teaching students how to mindlessly navigate cryptic arrays of menus to acheive certain formatting results - it should be teaching and fostering intuition on how to recognize common concepts between applications - whether it's Word, OpenOffice, or Google Docs - so that students aren't completely lost when they are exposed to a different environment. At this point, it's not even a matter of "openness" - it's a matter of developing lifelong learning skills over teaching mechanical habits.

We've got some enlightened officials over here, so I certainly hope teachers take advantage of this newfound flexibility.

I find the concept of teaching technology literacy to be silly at best. If you need to write a paper, expect students to use a word processor (when I was in school my papers were expected to be typed, on a typewriter, no dot-matrix printing). Same with presentations and spreadsheets. Even better, turn the paper in online. Maybe the issue is the teachers don't understand technology well enough to use the tools to make education more efficient?

Computer programming and engineering are excellent stretch subjects for talented students, but general use of technology to do day to day work should be rolled into normal curriculum.

I agree that many students may not be well-served by courses in "technological literacy" because the knowledge they bring to the classroom in most cases outstrips subjects and goals oultined in curricula. But by integrating open source tools into their lessons, instructors gain the ability to teach students not only how to <em>use</em> these tools, but also how to <em>make</em> them. Not every student will be interested in learning computer programming, but all students can observe a crucial lesson: Tools can be altered; the world can be modified and made to function differently (or, to use language to which I know you're already sympathetic: the world is for tinkering!).

Furthermore, by making it evident to children at a young age that "what you see doesn't have to be what you get", we might be able to inspire more folks to pursue computer science in the future, especially in underrepresented fields.

Based on my experience of introducing Open Source into a UK First School, the reality is that teachers are (rightly) concerned about keeping control of a classroom and jumping the prescribed / documented administrative hurdles set before them.

A teacher needs mastery, rather than familiarity, of a software tool before he/she can demonstrate it to students. This proved unrealistic in our case.

Further, being "allowed" to introduce alternatives to Microsoft products might make for a good headline, until you consider that every teacher is already required to use a central government provided tracking tool that ONLY works with Microsoft Word and Excel, negating the possibility of alternative Office Suites, Operating Systems and the like.

The amount of funding, in real money and discounted software, that the UK education authority receives from Microsoft means that UK students will be trained solely the on the use of Microsoft products for a very long time.

You bring up a key point about inertia and friction in making changes. In my US high school, I was taught typing on a manual typewriter, advanced typing on a powered typewriter, and word processing on a TRS-80 model III. I taught myself programming with AtariBasic on an Atari 800. Typing has been an important skill in my career considering it was a throw away class. Programming logic is still useful even though the languages have changed. That was of course nearly 30 years ago. The key is if what is being taught now will be relevant in 30 years?

The tools used by the teachers is irrelevant. What is important is providing a chance to work with hardware they can break, write simple programs, and troubleshoot problems. Open hardware and software are the best tools for that task, and the skills learned will be relevant decades into the future.

Side note: If you are changing an organization from proprietary to open architecture, you don't start with the desktop, but concentrate on upgrading the infrastructure. Once you have the back office system agnostic, you have significantly more flexibility in implementing end user hardware.

Of course, "not every student will be interested in learning computer programming", but we don't respect that when it comes to learning Math, or Science, or History. Moreover, well taught, all courses can be interesting for kids. They are natural learners!

Take a look at to see how programming can be incredibly more engaging and challenging than any cool PPT. For free.

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