you don’t know schmidt

SO, Eric Schmidt (of Google fame) has created a stir by criticising our IT education!

He is right though. I did four years of IT/computing education from GCSE to A-level and with no exaggeration whatsoever, I can tell you that absolutely none of it helped me become the computer genius I am today (…). In fact, it always seemed obvious to me I would study computer science at university. I was always someone who tinkered with computers. I used to play lots of games but half the fun was poking around the data files and seeing what I could change. I self-taught myself some basic programming when I was in school (although it would be fair to say I didn’t really ‘get’ programming at that stage). Yet, by the time I got to the university application phase, I’d been so sickened off computing/IT education that I chose maths instead.

The IT GCSE syllabus doesn’t pretend to be very advanced, but really it’s just an MS Office training course with a peculiar obsession for ‘mail merge’. There’s a big focus on a practical project, and this takes the form of an MS-Access database. We spent probably about a year on it. Naturally I almost failed it because I was so bored by it and lacked the motivation to spend so long on it.

The Computing A level is supposed to be more advanced. And it is, sort of, but it’s no more useful. When I did it, it was a bewildering array of pretty much every computing topic you can imagine, all condensed into 5 hours a week. Well, I seem to recall that 2-3 of those hours were practical sessions which we spent working on coursework, which was, yes, you guessed it, another MS-Access database. I didn’t magic up any more motivation at this stage, nor was I struck with something that would have resembled A POINT, so by any respectable standards I failed it again. We had 2-3 hours per week left to focus on the taught topics. I remember covering these topics: Visual Basic, Prolog, Assembly language (x86 I guess), HTML, binary arithmetic, Von Neumann Machines, Turing Machines, and a brief history of computing involving Ada Lovelace and Charles Babbage. Maybe this seems like a vaguely sensible syllabus, but, no, it was bewildering. There were far too many topics and none was taught in enough detail. It’s one thing to stand at the front and ‘explain’ something, but if the audience cannot understand the motivation for introducing it or the problem it solves, then it’s a lost cause. If you came out of it having any idea whatsoever how to write assembly code or having any vague notion of what Von Neumann architecture actually meant, then you were a genius. I certainly didn’t. Should have done further maths instead.

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