Computing At School Computing At School School of Computer Science THE UNIVERSITY OF BIRMINGHAM

ICT-Computing: not A Rigid Dichotomy
Part of the debate about what to teach in schools

(DRAFT: Liable to change)

Aaron Sloman
School of Computer Science, University of Birmingham.
(Philosopher in a Computer Science department)

Installed: 2 Dec 2011
Last updated: 13 Mar 2012
This paper is
A PDF version may be added later.

A partial index of discussion notes is in

Background to Discussions About What To Teach in Schools

What should go into or replace ICT/Digital-Literacy
To be taught in parallel with Computing Science
In UK schools?

There has been concern among some teachers of ICT (and others) that recent
discussions contrasting (poor) teaching of ICT in schools with (good, desirable)
teaching of computing science including programming may end up throwing a baby out
with the bathwater.

This question was posted on the CAS mailing list:

> So now we promote two subjects: Digital Literacy and Computer Science.
> Would the ICT community, on this list, be happy with this proposal?

Unfortunately, despite the deep tendency of human brains to latch onto dichotomies,
no *binary* division can do justice to the richness of the field of computing, a fact
that should be acknowledged and taken into account by people planning educational
strategies and those doing the education.

For example: I know excellent, high powered, computer system administrators who do no
programming. They use complex programs produced by others, in order to assemble a
collection of services including network services, web services, email, backup
facilities, and various software tools, including compilers and software development

They can do this because they have a deeper and more general knowledge of computing
than merely knowing how to write programs (which they have probably done in the

Another kind of activity that's different from programming, and different from using
software packages is helping to identify requirements for computing services and
choosing between options available. It requires a deep understanding of the needs of
different kinds of users, and the ways in which computing technologies change, as
well as the ability to relate offerings of manufacturers to the needs of users.

And, as I keep complaining, everyone in the field consistently ignores the deep and
growing influence of computational ideas in other fields of knowledge including
several sciences and philosophy, as in this hefty book just published by OUP

    The Organisation of Mind, by T. Shallice and R. P. Cooper

If computer scientists and computing educators go on ignoring the fact that the
importance of computing extends far beyond the applications of computers, they will
have to be replaced by teachers who know how to teach computing for science, giving
computing education a role analogous to mathematics education.

The USA seems to be ahead in this respect, e.g. the prestigious Siemens Foundation
prizes for high school students include awards for science projects involving

Maybe the forthcoming robotics event at the science museum will help: some robotics
researchers work on robot cognition in order to help them understand cognition, not
merely to provide useful tools.

So, ignoring for now the differences between schools and universities, the proposed
two categories

    Digital Literacy and Computer Science.

need to be expanded into a richer array including, for example (this is just a first
draft brain dump):

A. Varieties of digital literacy

    Domestic digital literacy
      being able to use computers and the internet for a variety of everyday uses
      (including using banking services, ordering items online, getting information
      on the web, using social internet services, using email, etc. Needs to be
      divided into various sub-categories, e.g.

        education (incuding homework)
        e-commerce (many kinds of online shopping)
        services (bank/building society, railcards, investments, etc.)

    Office digital literacy
      including being able to use spreadsheets, presentation software, various
      document preparation tools, etc.

    Business management digital literacy
      including use of employee databases, ordering systems, customer records, ...

    Teaching (and learning) uses of digital literacy
      using computers to present subject material in all disciplines taught,
      including, where appropriate, specialised packages, e.g. simulation tools in
      biology or physics, graph drawing packages in mathematics, chemical reaction
      modelling, etc. etc.

    Musical digital literacy
      lots of types

    Artistic digital literacty
      (including knowing how to generate various kinds of computer art)

    Publication digital literacy
      knowing how to produce news services, newsletters, journals, books and other
      means of disseminating content for enjoyment or other purposes

    Specialised digital literacy of other kinds
      e.g. using mathematical tools, data-analysis tools, medical diagnosis tools,
      .... etc.

B. The science of computation including

      The formal theory of computation, including foundational work by Frege,
      Russell/Whitehead, Turing, Church, Tarski, et al, on computability,
      decidability, definability, etc., and later developments on complexity,
      correctness, mappings from between formalisms, etc.

Maintained by Aaron Sloman
School of Computer Science
The University of Birmingham