Tag Archives: education

Computing – the fourth science

This was a facebook post, but I’d like to expand on it here:

I’ve just checked our school leavers’ destinations for last year. We had 16 going into medicine, pharmacy, dentistry, pharmacology or veterinary science.

We had ten going into software engineering, computer science, AI, robotics or related subjects where Computing would be an essential or near-essential skill (including one Maths/Physics pupil in there).

I have been very generous in what I consider a “medical” subject and quite strict on the computer-relates ones. We’re looking at something not that far away from a 1:1 relationship between the two overall, depending on how you view the courses.

Image courtesy of Wikipedia
Image courtesy of Wikipedia

Not even considering how useful basic Computing would be for anyone doing engineering, chemical engineering, bio-tech, or indeed the medically-related subjects… would someone kindly explain to me why parents still think their children “have” to do Biology, Chemistry and Physics to get into Medicine et al? Especially when university entry requirements haven’t asked for this triplet for many years?

Yes, I’m selling my own subject. I just want to know why I need to when the advantages of it are so flipping obvious to so many pupils.

I was speaking to a parent recently who finished her PhD a short while ago and she can’t understand why Computing isn’t encouraged more by schools. Her subject was Genetics and there was no way she could have done the work she did without the aid of computers and knowing how to use them.

Yes, there’s a definite gap between “using a computer” and “knowing how it works and how to program one”, but there’s also a big common ground where the skills picked up would be useful for so many other areas of life/study.

Take the Software Development Process, for example. It teaches how to approach a large problem, break it down into smaller ones, plan each section appropriately, distribute these small problems to multiple people (if required), get the parts made, test them thoroughly, document everything, evaluate the finished product and maintain it afterwards.

This procedure can be applied to so many other skills: essay writing, laboratory experiments, household projects, business plans… it just needs a little bit of tweaking. To the best of my knowledge, with the exception of CDT/”techie” we’re the only subject that teaches this structured approach to problem-solving. Not only do we teach it, it’s entrenched in the ethos of computing and forms the framework of the course from junior years right through to senior. It’s not just an exam topic.

Computers are in use in all walks of life and knowing how they work helps you when you’re dealing with them. If you know what they can do and roughly how they do it, then it makes it easier for you to communicate to an expert exactly what you require if the actual task is outside of your skill set. This would be incredibly useful for those doing any scientific university course as they rely so heavily on information-gathering and, indeed, automation of experimental procedure. Automated and monitored by, of course, computers.

We’ve had pupils who’ve told us in their first year that they’re not taking Computing because they’re going into Medicine and their parents have said that Computing is pointless. This angers me. A good Computing pass further up the school is as valuable as any other for university entry and equally as useful for getting onto Medicine. In First Year you don’t even know what your child’s strengths truly are and by telling them they won’t be taking the course at certificate level in two years you’re hamstringing them – they won’t try, so they won’t achieve their potential. It becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy.

You could be pushing them to do a subject they struggle at, when they could be a natural nerd who could get a far easier “A” in Computing… and still get onto a medical course at university.

Computing is a science. In fact the course – right through from the beginning of the certificate route in schools to the end – has recently been renamed “Computing Science” in Scotland to reflect this. What more do we need to do to make parents, and indeed those within schools who sort out the timetable, realise that Computing Science is comparable to the “classic” sciences in terms of academic value?

An open letter to Mike Russell

Curious to see if I get a reply:

Mr Russell,

I would be glad if you would clarify your statement on STV this evening that, I quote, “‘The actions of the Government and Local Government along with the new deal with teachers will ensure there are more jobs next year.”

I ask as your own figures state that there will be a drop of 1057 jobs this year. Far be it from from me, as a Computing teacher, to tread on the toes of the Maths or English departments to argue numbers or semantics, but I usually associate a “drop” with a lessening, i.e. resulting in a lower number. Not an increase, as the word “more” implies.

Or, dare I say it, are you just lying to the public in a bid to gain support while you destroy our education system?

Many thanks, (etc.)

If you want to ask him yourself, he’s available at Michael.Russell.msp@scottish.parliament.uk

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How to Destroy an Education System (by The Scottish Parliament, aged 11¾)

For those who are unaware, I am an NQT – “Newly Qualified Teacher“. Courtesy of the excellent system in Scotland, this means I get a fast track to full certification by being placed on a full year teaching experience on a wage slightly below that of a more experienced member of staff. I don’t get 100% “contact time” (that is, time in class with pupils) as this gives me time to generate lesson plans, practice with resources and equipment available to me, and explore other areas of the profession to help me become as good a teacher as possible.

I work in a system whereby the head of the department I am in is a certified and experienced teacher in that subject. Although I am contracted to a 35-hour week, I work significantly more hours than that. This is normal.

Believe it or not, if teachers wish to work to those exact contracted hours it is classed as industrial action and a ballot must be taken by a union before it can be done. Yes, seriously. It is industrial action to work within the limits of our agreed contract of employment. I believe we are the only profession for whom this is the case – please correct me if I’m wrong.

A few years ago, teachers agreed to a pay freeze due to financial issues. Shortly after that, inflation spiralled so that teachers are effectively worse off than they were when they agreed the freeze. Such is life. This kind of thing happens to people who sign onto tracker mortgages and the like. It’s a gamble, to some extent.

Teachers must also, as part of their employment agreement as public servants, pay into the pension pot. This isn’t the goldmine many people think it is, especially if a teacher doesn’t rise above being a regular member of staff. Senior staff, head teachers and so on may well see a nice return at the end of their career (and in most cases have flipping well earned it), but the rest of us will be lucky to get something half-decent. Again, do note – we can’t opt out of this to the best of my knowledge.

There’s a great scheme currently running called the Chartered Teacher Scheme. This enables teachers who are particularly invested in their profession to focus on certain topics and develop them. Think of it as a PhD for teachers (not accurate, but you get the idea). It brings them to the peak of their profession and encourages them to help improve other teachers in the process.

You may not be aware, but teachers teach teachers. A lot of the time when your kids aren’t in school, we are. Brushing up on techniques, covering new material, adjusting to new legislation and being taught by people such as these Chartered Teachers.

In the meantime, we’re also undergoing the single largest curricular change in Scottish education for decades with the Curriculum for Excellence (CfE) which you may have heard of. This is a massive change to the way children are both taught and assessed. We have to adjust our ways of teaching, change how we record and present their educational records, develop new resources (absolutely none are provided by the people who’ve created this curriculum) and so forth.

What the Scottish Parliament is planning to do

1) To address a one-year budgetary framework, teachers are being asked to accept a two year pay freeze. Also permanent changes to their conditions of service. One of these is an increase in their pension contributions to at least 3.2% of their income. Remember, this is not a pension that can be opted out of. In addition, the return on this investment is lower than was promised years ago. Yes, that’s right – we’re being forced to pay more to receive less.

2) Supply teachers are being smacked in the face with a maximum 27.5 hour week for the first 8 days of any engagement – at Scale Point 1 on the pay scale (the lowest). Therefore any supply teacher who can’t get a nice long- or medium-term placement will never be paid at their deserved rate, and will never work a 35-hour week. Well, they will – they just won’t be paid beyond 27.5. A supply teacher at the top of the scale will suffer a 35% loss in earnings. And this isn’t taking into account the additional pension contributions mentioned previously. Expect this to cause a lot of people to drop out of the profession, particularly in rural areas where supply work is sparse as it is.

3) The Chartered Teacher Scheme is either being frozen or withdrawn completely, removing the best avenue for creating absolutely top-end teachers.

4) NQTs will be expected to work nearer 100% contact time, resulting in far less time to learn about being a teacher and generate good lesson plans. Essentially, it’s a way of getting cheap labour. NQTs are paid less than fully fledged staff and part of justifying that is that they work fewer hours (usually around 70%) while still devoting all of their non-contact time to self-improvement. The new legislation will mean they have to work virtually full time while still trying to find time for Continued Professional Development. Alternatively, those CPD sessions currently provided may be removed thus meaning that NQTs will be less effective in the medium term.

5) Sick pay will be reduced by 10% for each and every day of absence. This affects supply teachers, probationers (NQTs), those on maternity leave… you name it.

6) £81 million will be cut from the Teachers Pay Bill – a cut of 3.4%. In comparison, local authority grant settlements are being cut by 2.6%.

7) Within my area at least, a decision has been made to change from the existing Principle Teacher / Head of Department scheme to a “Faculty” one. This, basically, removes a fair number of senior staff and thus lowers the overall pay packet for teachers. It also means that the head of a Faculty could have no experience whatsoever in teaching the subjects they are overseeing. Do you honestly think it would make sense to have a Home Economics teacher overseeing Computing, Geography or P.E.? Of course it doesn’t.

This last point is a real bone of contention. The council have stated that there is no evidence that the current model is better. Or at least no financial evidence. In other words, they’re only bothered about the money, not about the effect on education. To turn their statement on its head, however, is to say that there’s also no evidence that their new Faculty model is of any educational benefit.

For some wonderful quotes from the … I shall be polite and say “individual” heading this motion, please read this article courtesy of the Edinburgh Evening News.

At a time when we’re undergoing such massive curricular changes, we need experienced staff in charge of departments in which they have a background. It’s simply plain common sense. Something obviously lacking from the council members trying to save a few bucks so they can continue to claim underwear from Marks & Spencer and five star hotel rooms should they get snowed in next December.

To sum up

Absolutely every single decision being made at both council and government level is to the detriment of the Scottish education system. I agree we’re in a time of dire financial straits. However, the only way we’re going to get out of it is to produce good, hard workers. Skilled individuals who can grab our businesses and industries and pull them back up on their feet.

How the hell these idiot politicians expect us to do that with paltry resources, disillusioned staff, chaotic organisation and change seemingly for the sake of it is beyond me.

Parents – who would you trust most to tell you what is best for your children’s ongoing education? Politicians who think with only their egos and their bank balances, or teachers who decided to do this job despite knowing they would be working in one of the most stressful careers currently going? That they would be paid for a 35-hour week despite regularly working in excess of 50 (sometimes far, far more), in a career where the words of one spiteful child can have them flung from a job until a court battle gets them reinstated? That they are fully aware that discipline in schools is nigh-on impossible to maintain due to nanny state regulations?

Would you trust someone who is part of the system, who was trained in it, works in it and believe in it? Or would you believe someone who’s job revolves around appearing to do something so they don’t get voted out for appearing ineffective? Someone who has decided to tackle a working environment in which they themselves have absolutely no prior professional experience?

Frankly, expecting these councillors and MPs to make these decisions makes as much sense as asking a schoolteacher to perform an appendectomy on your youngest.

We’re good, but we’re not that good. We wouldn’t have a clue what we were doing. But at least we’d have the balls to admit it.

 

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Catch-up post

Strathclyde University - Jordanhill Campus
Strathclyde University - Jordanhill Campus

I’m sure there are a few of you out there who don’t follow my goings-on via facebook and/or Twitter so I thought I might as well put a few words up here. This blog is rapidly becoming a film review site and I don’t want that!

Recent news – I applied for a PGDE (Primary) course at Strathclyde University and found out this week, after interview, that I hadn’t got on. I’m disappointed, but it’s not the end of the world. With over 800 people competing for barely 130 places I’m glad I at least got as far as an interview. I guess I’ll see how things stand close to term starting and I may ring to see if there have been any drop-outs. Or I try again next year.

What’s a real shame is that next year will be the last time the course will be running at the Jordanhill campus and I really liked it there. Far more convenient and lovely surroundings – much better (and cheaper) than traipsing into the city centre every day.

What else? Well, Gill and I are still doing remarkably well. I guess she’s just not got bored of me yet. The two kids are just amazing. I honestly didn’t realise how much I would enjoy taking on the responsibility of kids. OK, so I only see them all at weekends and holidays but I’m looking forward to July when – assuming I don’t arse things up like I have a habit of doing – I’ll be moving in with them.

In the meantime I’ve been helping redecorate, put together furniture and “tech” the house up a bit. We had been hoping to move to another place (and such a lovely place), but financially it’s just not viable at the moment. Instead we’re looking at extending the existing place and staying put for a few years. Nice location, though, and good for schools for the kids – and hopefully for me!

On the job front, things aren’t looking fantastic with precisely no full-time vacancies for Computing teachers being advertised. There’s always supply, and I have no issues with going back to IT if it’s going to pay the bills. Hell, the dive company that Gill is doing her SCUBA training with is after divemasters, so you never know – I could go that direction instead.

Work is going well. I’m lucky enough to have fantastic support at the school at which I’m doing my NQT year. Teaching isn’t as easy as you might have thought it was when you were the kid sat in the classroom staring out of the window. I’m definitely on the downhill slope towards the year end, and will be losing a fair few classes to exam leave in the very near future. Revision time!

As mentioned, though, the job situation sucks and it seems the Scottish government have decided that their money saving plans for next year are best focussed on destroying the education system as best they can while ensuring that the upper echelons of Holyrood get to keep their flash cars and velvet-upholstered toilet seats. But that will be another blog post.

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Kids ‘n stuff

Blue Dragon Children's Foundation

This may end up being a fairly emotional post, but hopefully will help drive home something that means a lot to me.

As most of you know, I recently had a career change and moved into teaching. There were a few reasons for this. Partly due to the recession, partly that as I was a Scottish resident I could do the course for free. A huge part was getting the chance to teach several Vietnamese kids how to use computers when I was here (I’m back overseas!) in 2006.

The other thing is that I really love kids. Not in a Gary Glitter way, not in the slightest. I just think they’re the best thing in the world. I don’t have any of my own yet and that’s my hugest regret in life so far. I’ve enjoyed so many pleasures, seen so many things, soaked up some amazing experiences – and yet the one thing I want more than anything else I haven’t quite got round to yet.

So I guess part of the reason I want to work with children is that I don’t have my own. Yet.

However, I’ve been talking to a lot of teachers from all over and I’ve had mixed reports about men working with kids. In the UK, Canada and Oz there’s a huge demand for male primary school teachers (which is a qualification I’m eying up – I teach secondary at the moment).

The US, however, is very anti male primary teachers. I was talking to an American secondary teacher and he told me that it’s very hard for a man to get a job in the primary sector. Why? Because any man who wants to be around small children in a paedophile, obviously.

This viewpoint sickens me.

I also suffer it. If I’m in a supermarket and I see a small child sat on the back of a trolley, I always want to wave and make silly faces until they smile. If the parents see me doing this and I’m stood there with another woman – girlfriend, friend, whatever – they’re generally nice about it. If I’m by myself then I get a nasty stare and the child is whisked off as if my only thought it to steal it and abuse it.

I reckon we can only blame the tabloids, but this attitude really makes me feel awful. When I was in Burma, a family walked me and another chap from the hostel home when we got lost. Along the way, the mother handed me her child to hold. The baby was maybe 3-4 months old and she was happy to just pass her to a stranger who found her gorgeous.

That wouldn’t happen back home.

The difference? No tabloid madness in Burma. No assumption that people are evil (except the Burmese government). Just a general feeling of good human nature.

What a grin!
How happy does *he* look?

Happily, there are other people who are as trustworthy as I am. In fact pretty much everyone is, let’s be honest. One of them is Michael Brosowski who founded the Blue Dragon Children’s Foundation in Hanoi which most of you know I do a bit of work for as and when I can.

Last weekend I had the chance to pop up to Long Bien and play a bit of football with the kids, who were then presented with a trophy for winning the under 14’s league. A great achievement from a rag-tag bunch, many of whom have spent time living on the streets.

The other thing is that even the smallest of them will happily “attach” themselves to a new member of the group and play around. I was in goal for one team of older kids, but I’d made a new friend who was about 10. He mimicked my (awful) skills, and I started showing off doing pull-ups on the crossbar during flurries of play. He couldn’t reach so I helped him up and we just mucked around.

It was great fun, but – again – imagine anyone letting a complete stranger do this with their kids back in the UK. I mean *horror* I actually touched him. Even as a registered teacher in the UK, if you touch a child you can be in trouble. This included hugging upset children in a primary environment – woe betide you if you do so without witnesses. Insane.

That’s not to say that Vietnam doesn’t have its share of scum who will take advantage of children. Blue Dragon has rescued several from brothels both here and in China. Add that to the sweatshop labour that some endure after they’re kidnapped or tricked away from their parents.

I just played catchup on Michael’s blog and there’s some good reading there from the last few weeks. I do urge you to pop over and flick through his posts from early June. Children as young as 11 rescued from sweatshops, three generations of one family finally given ID papers so they can receive education and healthcare, legal aid for some kids who are really off the rails… and more.

His blog’s located at http://vietnamstreets.blogspot.com/

Children are the single most important resource any country has. They need to be treated well, educated well, brought up well. They’re the future of this planet and whatever happens over the coming decade, centuries and millennia is in their hands.

However, if we don’t take care of them then we’re screwed.

Blue Dragon is just one charity in one country, but it does a hell of a job. I’ve worked with these kids on and off for over four years now and I’d do anything for them.  All I’m doing now is asking you to check out the web page, see what you can afford and drop them a few quid. Dollars. Whatever. They have dozens of projects on the go at once, and all of them will make good use of that cash.

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