UK National Curriculum: A Level Playing-Field?

Just over a year ago, I reported on a remarkable speech by the UK Education Secretary Michael Gove that contained the following words:

Imagine the dramatic change which could be possible in just a few years, once we remove the roadblock of the existing ICT curriculum. Instead of children bored out of their minds being taught how to use Word and Excel by bored teachers, we could have 11 year-olds able to write simple 2D computer animations using an MIT tool called Scratch.

As we all know, the central problem with the current ICT curriculum in the UK has been a long-standing belief that computing means the world of Windows, and that learning ICT skills means learning how to use Word and Excel. The hope, then, is that the great change promised by Gove will finally move us away from this Microsoft monoculture that brainwashes children into believing that there are no alternatives.

Today, we have the launch of a Consultation on reform of the National Curriculum in England, which lets us look at what is being proposed instead. On ICT, the consultation document [.pdf] says:

We also propose to replace the current ICT curriculum with a new computing curriculum with a much greater emphasis on computational thinking and practical programming skills. This will help to ensure that England retains a competitive edge in the vital and growing digital economy.

The detailed framework document [.pdf] has more about this shift to computing. It's particularly pleasing to see no mention of any software company or any of its products. This is as it should be.

So, assuming you wish to comment favourably on this move, you might use the online form, or you may wish to download the response form to fill out. There is such a form, but only available in one format – Microsoft Word. No ODF version – which would take only a few extra seconds to produce – is on offer. Once again, we are led to believe that there is no alternative.

As this embarrassing fail indicates, there's still a long way to go before we reach a truly level playing-field for open formats and open source in this country.

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