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26 April 2024

Why do we teach Computing? What are the essential digital skills students need by age 16?

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Becci Peters

This is a summary of a recent CAS Innovation Panel discussion about why we teach computing and what are the essential digital skills students need by age 16.

Why Teach Computing?

The discussion panel highlighted several compelling reasons for teaching computing in schools. The key rationales include:

  • Digital Citizenship and Participation: Computing education equips students to be active and informed digital citizens, able to navigate and engage with the digital world. This is crucial for full participation in modern society
  • Problem-Solving Skills: While some questioned whether computing is the best vehicle for teaching general problem-solving, the panel recognised that computing does develop valuable computational thinking and problem-solving abilities that are applicable across disciplines
  • Understanding the Digital World: Learning computing helps students become discerning users of technology, with the knowledge to make informed choices. It allows them to understand the digital landscape, similar to how understanding physics helps one navigate the physical world
  • Future Readiness and Creativity: Computing education prepares students for future careers and empowers creative expression through digital mediums. It is a foundational skill for the 21st-century workforce
  • Beauty and Learning for Its Own Sake: Beyond practical applications, the panel acknowledged the intrinsic value and "beauty" of computing as a subject worthy of study for its own sake, much like other academic disciplines
  • Digital Skills for Everyday Life: The panel emphasised the importance of teaching practical digital skills for common life activities like online banking, shopping, and communication. This includes productivity tools, collaboration, online safety, and digital wellbeing

Essential Digital Skills

The panel discussed which digital skills would be essential for those leaving school and entering further education or employment. A comprehensive digital skills curriculum for Key Stage 4 students has been proposed to equip them with essential competencies for the future. The key components of this curriculum could include:

Digital Media and Creativity

Students will develop skills in utilising a variety of digital media tools and platforms to unleash their creative potential. This will empower them to express their ideas, tell stories, and innovate in the digital realm.

Productivity Tools

The curriculum should focus on mastering productivity tools such as word processing, presentations, and spreadsheets, including advanced features like pivot tables. These practical skills will prepare students for success in academic and professional settings.

Collaboration and Communication

Emphasis should be placed on developing digital collaboration and communication skills, including the effective use of social media. This will enable students to work seamlessly with others, share information, and build professional networks.

Internet Research

In an age of information abundance, students should learn how to navigate the internet effectively, evaluate the credibility of online sources, and conduct thorough research to support their academic and personal endeavours.

Cybersecurity and Digital Citizenship

The curriculum should address critical topics such as cybersecurity, ethical implications of technology, data privacy, misinformation, and conspiracy theories. This will foster students' digital citizenship and help them navigate the online world responsibly.

Emerging Technologies

Insights into emerging technologies, such as artificial intelligence, blockchain, and the Internet of Things, will provide students with a glimpse into the future and prepare them for the evolving technological landscape.

Accessibility and the Digital Divide

The inclusion of accessibility tools and awareness of the digital divide should ensure that all students, regardless of their abilities or socioeconomic backgrounds, can access and leverage digital resources effectively.


If you would like to be invited to join a future discussion panel, please complete this form: