Eric Schmidt, the executive chairman of Google, is surely a man who ought to know about the digital world. This Sunday he wrote the following article for the Observer, by way of responding to the Observer’s campaign to bring ‘coding’ to the classroom, which 3Di has written about in a previous blog:
Britain’s economy will thrive if computing becomes child’s play
I read last week’s Observer New Review (“We need to teach our kids to code”) with interest and admiration. In Britain, the debate about the teaching of computer science in schools is moving fast and in the right direction.
Read more here.
Last August the Guardian published this feature on the thoughts of Chairman Schmidt:
Eric Schmidt, chairman of Google, condemns British education system
The chairman of Google has delivered a devastating critique of the UK’s education system and said the country had failed to capitalise on its record of innovation in science and engineering.
Schmidt told the MediaGuardian Edinburgh international TV festival: “Over the past century, the UK has stopped nurturing its polymaths. You need to bring art and science back together.”
Schmidt’s comments echoed sentiments expressed by Steve Jobs, the chief executive of Apple, who revealed this week that he was stepping down. “The Macintosh turned out so well because the people working on it were musicians, artists, poets and historians – who also happened to be excellent computer scientists,” Jobs once told the New York Times.
“The UK is the home of so many media-related inventions. You invented photography. You invented TV,” [Schmidt] said. “Yet today, none of the world’s leading exponents in these fields are from the UK.” He added: “Thank you for your innovation, thank you for your brilliant ideas. You’re not taking advantage of them on a global scale.”
Schmidt said the country that invented the computer was “throwing away your great computer heritage” by failing to teach programming in schools. “I was flabbergasted to learn that today computer science isn’t even taught as standard in UK schools,” he said. “Your IT curriculum focuses on teaching how to use software, but gives no insight into how it’s made.”
The bigger issue is surely whether Britain is failing to enthuse children and young people for learning in general, plus whether we enable them to become critical and creative thinkers, and whether we provide for the development of ALL of their intelligences – instead of focusing mainly or exclusively on passing tests and exams.
Latest news on the tests front:
Teachers’ union criticises phonics tests
NUT says ‘unnecessary’ policy would send message to schools and parents that other aspects of reading are less important
by Hélène Mulholland
A teachers’ union has called for a campaign against the government’s new reading tests, including a possible boycott, as it said some pupils would be labelled as failures.
Delegates at the NUT’s annual conference in Torquay passed a resolution warning that the mandatory testing of phonics – a system that focuses on sounds rather than recognising whole words – was “unnecessary and inappropriate”.
The union said the government’s policy of promoting phonics would send a message to schools and parents that other aspects of reading were less important.
Hazel Danson, a phonics teacher and chairman of the NUT’s education committee, said reading involved far more “than just decoding a text”.
“You might as well be giving them quite frankly a page of French and they can decode that but have absolutely no understanding or can ascribe meaning to it,” Danson said. “One headteacher has said he thought it was damaging to give children material they couldn’t read because they would see that as a failure. If you follow that logic, you would never be able to give children any books that had any conversational dialogue in it because the word ‘said’ is impossible to decode phonically.”
“Most adults do not read phonically,” she said. “They read by visual memory or they use context queueing to predict what the sentence might be, so some children who have already got that skill quite early on who were taking the test were left confused.”
Blower highlighted a “very odd, perverse incentive” to drill children in learning non-words, “because if you know that you’re a better, or more advanced, or more able reader you might try to make a word out of a word that’s a non-word.
“Teachers will have a tendency to say ‘well, let’s practice lots of non-words, so when you see a non-word you don’t try to make them be words’. How stupid is that?”
It’s very stupid indeed. This whole thing is incredibly stupid.
“Sending a message to schools and parents that other aspects of reading were less important.” So what are these other aspects of reading?
We’re talking about whether young readers can use contextual cueing. Do we have a test for that? No.
We’re talking about whether children can use the semantic cueing system. Do we have a test for that? No.
We’re talking about whether children can use the syntactic cueing system. Do we have a test for that? No.
The worst possible thing you can do to beginning readers is to give them the idea that reading consists of one skill and one skill only – so-called ‘synthetic phonics’. This is what my granddaughter’s school tried to do to her – a child who was already ‘reading’ at the age of three by using picture cues, who knew that books consist of coherent and interesting stories, who knew that sentences need to be syntactically and semantically correct, and that sentences need to make sense. All of that goes out the window when a child is told not to ‘guess’, told not to use picture cues, told not to ‘guess’ on the basis of knowing the ‘look’ of the word (ie already knowing the word by it’s appearance!) and told just to ‘sound out’ each and every letter in each and every word. This is sheer stupidity.
In order to understand these and other issues, every government minister and special adviser, and every Ofsted inspector, ought to read a CLPE publication called Whole to Part Phonics – How Children Learn to Read and Spell.
Any professional involved in early years education who has no understanding and no knowledge of ‘onset and rime’ and why word awareness and analysis based on syllables is important in learning to read and spell simply needs to take the time to find out – and in the meantime should simply not be allowed to play any part in the education of children or in the teaching of literacy, let alone the testing and assessment of children, teachers and schools. Failure to understand such ‘basics’ truly ought to mean disqualification.
It goes without saying that the same applies to those who have never considered or understood the importance of the other key cueing systems listed above, apart from grapho-phonics.
Could we please have a response from politicians and bureaucrats to these issues?
The response from the Department for Education to the NUT’s challenge, as described in Hélène Mulholland’s article (extracts above), is simply pathetic and will not do. Not by a very long way.