DO we need a rethink about how IT is taught in schools?
That is the view of Ian Livingstone, co-founder of the celebrated computer games firm, Games Workshop. He is due in Scotland later this month to address the Edinburgh International Culture Summit, which will bring together the culture ministers from around 35 countries. He will argue that computer science is the "new Latin" because it underpins our increasingly digital world. As an analytical discipline and a system of logical thinking, he argues that it is as relevant as physics, chemistry or biology.
He is also co-author of the Next Gen report, which claimed the British gaming and video effects industry was losing out to global competition because the ICT curriculum in schools focused on office skills rather than programming. As a result children learned how to use technology but not how to create it.
England's Education Secretary, Michael Gove, has responded by announcing that the current ICT curriculum would be replaced by a flexible curriculum in computer science and programming.
In Scotland computer skills are embedded across all subjects as part of the Curriculum for Excellence but here too the emphasis is more on how to use software than how to create it.
Of course, not every child has the ability to become a top computer programmer but if digital literacy was given the same status as the traditional "3 Rs", then a looming skills gap could be filled. Children should be given the chance to discover if they have the aptitude for a career in coding.
Are middle-class parents so blinkered that can only envisage their offspring making good in careers like law, medicine and accounting?
In a letter in yesterday's Herald, Polly Purvis, chief executive of ScotlandIS, the trade body for Scotland's IT sector, pointed out that the sector was growing fast and would require 48,000 news entrants over the next five years. Yet the number of computer science graduates in the UK has been falling.
A number of barriers must be overcome, not least the shortage of suitably qualified teachers. In the short term, the industry could step up to the plate by offering secondments and staff development. There is also a lack of physical resources. But the goals can be met. Israel began teaching computer programming in schools 12 years ago and is now a world leader in innovation. We must not risk creating a generation of digital illiterates here.
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