Information Technology (IT) in U.K. Teacher Education

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Information Technology (IT) In U.K. Teacher Education

Over the past eight years, the development of information technology in schools in the United Kingdom has proceeded in two complementary yet sometimes conflicting ways. This trend can be witnessed in the growth of the study of computing and the contrasting attempts to integrate the technology into educational practice in support of teaching and learning. The most noticeable and perhaps predictable result of government and local support for programs to provide schools with microcomputing resources has been the unprecedented increase in the uptake of computer studies as an examination subject in schools. Yet, over the same period, the Microelectronics Education Programme, MEP and, more recently, the Microelectronics Education Support Unit, MESU have consistently pursued a policy of encouraging a cross-curricular approach to the assimilation of information technology in schools.

The philosophy underlying the promotion of both of these methods of bringing IT into the curriculum is the better preparation of pupils for adult life. While there is general agreement of this principle, the strategies adopted for accomplishing it can vary from school to school. At least three types of IT input in the curriculum may be identified: academic IT, vocational IT and cross-curricular IT.

Purely "academic" IT is defined as the study of the computer per se. Emphasis is on preparing the way for higher education or on providing programming-type skills for a commonly perceived, but nonetheless dubious, improved employability. Closely related is "vocational" IT. Vocational IT aims to improve employability by providing pupils with skills in specific commercial and industrial computer applications.

"Cross-curricular" IT endorses a natural assimilation of IT by encouraging the educational use of the computer throughout the curriculum and throughout the school itself. Although there is an element of improving employability here also, the emphasis on the "personal and social education." The aim is to ensure that pupils are not disadvantaged in their adult lives by being unaware of and unable to exploit IT techniques and applications.

Both the academic and vocational IT categories tend to be delivered in school curricula by means of timetabled slots and frequently in lessons leading to examinations. Cross-curricular IT, on the other hand, is less formally constituted.

Academic IT

Academic IT is taken to comprise formal studies of the new technology per se in such subjects as GCSE Computer Studies or General Certificate of Education (GCE) Advanced-Level Computer Science. Although it can be argued that the new emphasis on applications in the former contrasts sharply with the more conventionally academic approach to the science of computing in the latter, both represent a standard, timetabled solution to a curricula development. Inservice training for teachers in this category includes updates on the use of new hardware and software, operating systems, peripheral devices and so on, and the opportunity to examine professional issues such as syllabus development, assessment techniques and new teaching resources.

Computer studies/science has experienced a phenomenal growth in U.K. schools since the launch of the first central government initiative to equip schools with microcomputing resources. The growth can be seen in the numbers of examination entries in computer studies/science in Northern Ireland and England between 1980 and 1987. However, both sets of figures tend to indicate that the growth has peaked and is beginning to level off.

Computer studies is likely to decline further in future years as a combination of factors take their toll. One of the major factors arises from the government's new National Curriculum Policy, which identifies the subjects that must comprise school curricula. Today, government publications have not even mentioned computer studies in either the mandatory core group of subjects or in the group of additional subjects it also endorses. …