Should Children study IT at Primary school?

512px-Children_computing_by_David_ShankboneThe national curriculum states that children in primary school should learn how to write basic programs, to ‘debug’ (fix mistakes in programs to allow functionality); to use technology to store and organise content; and to understand how technology is used outside of the school setting. It is impossible to ignore the fact that computer literacy is now vital for many aspects of daily living, and children should be equipped with the skills they need as early in their lives as possible.

Information technology is based on logic: the idea is that you follow a set of steps in a particular order so that you can reach a desired outcome. Developing and enhancing the logic skills of children will not only benefit their capabilities with regards to computers and digital devices, it also helps to improve numeracy. Mathematics is also centred around logic, meaning children who have good IT skills will be better able to understand the subject’s problems and concepts.

The study of IT at primary school is also an important part of preparing for secondary school. When children enter secondary school, it is assumed that they will be proficient with and confident in using technology. Although most young people have frequent and regular access to IT at home, and use devices such as PCs, tablets and mobile phones, they might not necessarily understand how they work. Formal education in information technology allows children to start secondary school with the ability to use computers and other devices to organise their work, participate in activities, and engage fully with all aspects of the curriculum.

There is increasing hysteria over children accessing social media sites and apps. The temptation is for parents and teachers to ban all such activities in a bid to protect them. However, banning these sites and apps with no discussion or explanation only makes them more alluring for children. It also means that when they enter secondary school, they are ill prepared for the murky world that can accompany online interaction. Children who study IT at primary school can be better protected from online bullying or abuse by being informed and educated about what is acceptable behaviour, and how and when to get help if it is needed.

Studying IT at primary school can help to develop research skills from a young age. Children who learn how to access the material they need and what kinds of sources and content are most useful and relevant, will be better prepared for secondary and university study. Although books still have an important part to play in the study of many subjects, online research skills are vital to the education of young people in the 21st century.

G_2014-04-24_22-48It is my guess that lots of you reading this will have a Facebook or Twitter account. Maybe you have Tumblr, Blogspot, all of the above and more. In fact, as of January 2014, 74% of Internet using adults used social networking sites. What effect is using these sites having on our education?

In 2006, the FKII Josayeongu team described the characteristics of social media as “participation, openness, conversation, community and connectedness”. Many of these characteristics are vital to the learning process and many education programmes have tried to incorporate our increasing social media use into how we learn.

For example, blogging can be a great tool to encourage critical thought about a subject, as can forums like The Student Room. In distance learning, forums, blogs and other social medias can help create a classroom feel that might otherwise be missing. It’s also simply a much more fun and interesting way to engage with a subject that might otherwise seem abstract, and can facilitate a wider range of learning styles.

However, there’s no doubt that social media can also be a distraction and a great procrastination tool. Accounts like ‘Cats of Instagram’ are almost designed to steal hours of productivity away without you even noticing. Perhaps more serious than this is the thought that social media is decreasing our attention span and causing us to be able to retain less information – not helpful if you’re trying to revise! The immediacy of social media can make it hard to motivate ourselves to spend a long time researching and digging deeper into a topic, even though we all know that 140 characters won’t tell you the whole story.

On the flip side, the fact that we now have a wealth of information readily accessible at our fingertips is a huge success of social media, particularly when it comes to its impact on education. Stuck on a difficult question? You can be inundated with help and answers in a matter of minutes, and the diversity of opinion on a topic can help to expand your understanding. You may even be able to ask the experts on a subject for help, something that you definitely couldn’t have done in the past.

As long as you aren’t swapping the books for Twitter articles, using social media to aid your learning can serve to expand your resources and access to information. Remember that everything in moderation can be good, even Candy Crush Saga.

Information technology (IT or ICT) has a big role to play in home schooling. If you are learning at home, there is no doubt that IT skills will enable you to access a much richer educaitonal experience.

But that is just one aspect of IT’s importance in the modern world and children of every age need to develop their IT skills if they are going to enhance their life-chances.   Fortunately, most kids enjoy using computers and this gives them a natural aptitude for learning new IT skills.

For that reason, many home-schoolers will find that they race through Oxford Home Schooling’s new IT Key Stage 3 course. The course starts from first principles but many of the youngsters who take the course will already have a wide variety of experience of using information technology. That experience may be unstructured and play-oriented but it provides a big head start.

Perhaps the most important challenge when IT becomes a subject of formal study is to introduce and clarify the language of computing. There are hundreds of new terms to learn at various stages of the learning process and adults tend to forget how few of these terms are “obvious” to the newcomer. Each must be introduced carefully and preferably in the right sequence.

Most home learners will start with the Key Stage 3 Year 7 IT course. Although it is targeted at 11-12 year olds in Year 7, it is suitable for children of other ages who are ready to begin formal study and extend their use of computers.

There are, of course, dangers lurking in the world of computing – dodgy websites, viruses, inappropriate contacts, etc, so it is important to establish safe, supervised practices at the outset, in order to minimise the significance of any of these risks.  An important aspect of the Oxford Home Schooling IT course, is the help it gives parents to support their child’s studies and monitor progress effectively. There is an important three-way relationship between student, parent and tutor, designed to ensure steady, safe progress for each child.   OHS encourages parents to be actively involved at every point.

As well as the language of computing and safe practices, it is important to learn how to use the common tools of computing. The second half of the Year 7 course is devoted to those skills – word-processing, presentations, spreadsheets, databases, etc. These skills are gradually developed in the Year 8 and Year 9 IT courses,  so that by the time the student is ready to embark on GCSE studies (not simply IT GCSE), he or she has a full range of tools and techniques at their disposal.  Nor is it necessary to purchase expensive software – all the tools you need are available for free, notably in the excellent Open Office software.

The Oxford Home Schooling Year 7 course is designed to form part of a well-rounded educational experience for 11-year olds, sitting alongside well-established courses for English, Maths, Science, History, etc. The opportunities have never been better for home education in this age-group.

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