The Ministry of Education and the IT Dark Age

Rant warning! Seriously!

OK. here I go…

The Ministry of Education in the federal state of Germany where I reside has decided to make IT (Information Technology, obviously) a mandatory subject from the school year 2021/22 onward. So far so good. I am all for that. Especially since I had IT lessons in the federal state where I grew up over 25 years ago…

Back then, we were taught how computers work and also wrote simple programs in BASIC and (if I remember correctly) Pascal.

Now, since you need a license for everything in Germany, the Ministry of Education decided to offer courses for certification as an IT teacher. I applied, thinking that:

  1. I have experience teaching IT and internet use to senior citizens (I did that as a volunteer for two years)
  2. I am a certified programmer for Java and Python and also know some PHP and C.
  3. I worked in and around the internet for about 10 years before I went back into teaching.

it would not be too much of a challenge and since the lessons are so far only planned for 10-13 year old children, I also expected the curriculum would focus on

  1. teaching them how to use a computer, since most are only familiar with smart phones and tablets.
  2. Making them familiar with office programs, most likely the open source alternatives for windows office.

But oh my Cthulhu, I was so wrong.

I got the curriculum yesterday (as of writing this article) and among the things we are supposed to teach the children is…

Wait for it…

Wait a little longer…

Something that has been tried and tested and proven useful since the 1890s!

Morse code!

Yes, you read that correctly. As IT teachers, we are going to teach Morse code. And also ASCII. Well, I guess it is to show the pupils/students how encoding works but apparently, we have to do it in a way that makes sure they will never again be interested in doing IT-related stuff.

The whole curriculum is filled with dry, theoretical background on how computing works, construction of algorithms etc.

Everything is rather theoretical. There is very little actual programming involved in the course, at least as far as I can see now.
What annoys me even more is that there is only one thing that looks like something that could be fun for the children. And this is programming with scratch. This whole thing, those two years of IT education for the children, really reeks of getting them out of IT as soon as possible.

Whoever came up with this curriculum has no idea what children today consider fun or how to motivate them and how to get them interested in IT. If it had been me, I would have taught them to use graphics, to use scratch, and to use the usual office programs. Then I would have taught them about basic IT security for their mobile devices and their computers. This is not difficult especially if you have two years to do that and all what I have just mentioned can easily fit in two years of education.

If I had the time afterwards, I also would have taught them about hacking. Not that I would teach them on how to hack but I would make them understand that there are different types of hacking and how to protect against it. This would also include how to behave in social networks, how to choose good passwords how to avoid linking accounts etc. Useful things they can easily understand, and they can also pass on to their peers and friends. All things that make them take an interest in IT.

Something I forgot:
I would also teach them some very basic programs like a short script too calculate grades or a short script to filter information out of an excel file, things like that. There are also small programs for games. Maybe we could start a program where they basically program their own version of space invaders or Pacman or another simple game. Especially if they work in teams where every member of the team tackles a different task for the program.

But the curriculum that has been developed by the Ministry of Education only offers very little actually interesting things, things that may fascinate children aged 10 to 13 .

Whoever came up with this intentionally or unintentionally will get the children completely disinterested in computers and IT. In any case I think a curriculum like this is actually harmful.

We live in a society and in a time that is dominated by computers. If you teach IT in a way that scares children away from computers and from the things they can do with computers you are harming them.
If you teach them that IT is dull and tedious you are harming them.
Instead you should teach them to embrace IT, to embrace computers. You should teach a curriculum that is fascinating, that is fun, that is useful.
The curriculum that is offered here does not do this.
What this curriculum does is create computer-phobic children.
Children that are not interested in IT, children that will be less likely to handle the challenges on the Internet, especially when security is concerned. They will be terribly unprepared. The education system is failing them here in this very vital subject.

I hope since this is the first curriculum that has been published this will change in time.
I also hope that the actual teaching curriculum is different from the one offered by the certificate cause.
If the certificate cause is modeled after the curriculum that is being taught in schools, which I think it is, then it completely misses the point. This is a scary thought.

And talking of Morse code, here is a message for you: