ICT and Computer Science

Many people use ICT and Computer Science interchangeably and, although there are many similarities, there are also differences between them.

The website Techopedia quotes Computer Science as being “focused on creating new applications for computers. This means that computer scientists must have a deeper understanding of computers, algorithms, programming languages, theory and so on.”  It goes on to say “Information and communications technology focuses on how to best employ the programs out there, usually for business needs. This means that ICT professionals need to know about existing applications, how they interact, how they are best used and how to troubleshoot problems between them.”

In recent years Government ministers decided that ICT was not fit for purpose in schools, decided to throw the baby out with the bath water and only have computer science instead. GCSE and A level courses in ICT disappeared from the school curriculum and were replaced with Computer Science only. The basis of this reasoning was sound: our country lacks sufficient people with the technical skills and programming experience to help us grow as a nation, to fill the jobs needed and to be at the forefront of the rise in technology use in our everyday lives. Most of us use technology all the time but how many of us can actually create it or program it? Not many. 

It is now several years down the line and there is recognition that elements of both ICT and computer science are important in their own right, and at Fyling Hall we endeavour to give pupils experience of both. No matter what jobs people end up doing in the future, chances are there will be an element of ICT/computing in there somewhere. I spent many years as an analyst programmer with Barclays Bank and CIS, writing programs for banking and insurance, but I still had to use word processing software accurately to write program specifications and reports. I owned a small business where it was important to keep financial accounts using spreadsheets and customer details on a database.  This is a good reason why we offer the BTEC Level 3 Nationals Extended Certificate in IT in our Sixth Form as it covers all the software and knowledge that a business owner would need to successfully run their business.  We also look at how businesses can use social media to advertise and promote their business to increase sales; social media is another area of our lives that is developing rapidly.

Pupils in years 7, 8 and 9 learn a variety of different software, both ICT based (e.g. presentations, spreadsheets, word processing etc.) and computing based (e.g. Scratch, Logo, HTML, Python etc.) and also study some of the technical theory as to why things work the way they do (binary numbers, QR codes, encryption etc.)  We want them to be competent in the use of software as a means to an end such as writing up some historical research, creating a presentation about a famous mathematician, or making a website about environmental pollution. We want them to think for themselves to use technology to solve problems.

I read the recent blog by Mr Instone, our Physics teacher, with much interest. He talked about the role of women in Physics, in part to dispel the myth that Physics ‘is for boys’, and I come across similar attitudes in ICT/computing. I still hear so many girls saying ‘I can’t do ICT’ but they really can and it is trying to find a way through their closed attitudes. Year 8 have looked at the history of computing, how we got to where we are today, and some of the famous people who have been instrumental in getting us there. We have a display on our wall containing many women, as well as men, who have had the vision and the determination to try new things, to solve problems, and to really push boundaries in what is possible. People like Grace Hopper who invented the COBOL programming language and hit on the term “bug” when a moth flew into her computer; actress Hedy Lamarr who worked with wireless radio communications during the war; Elizabeth Feinler who worked on the forerunner to the Internet (Arpanet) and the current domain name system used for registering websites, and Katharine Johnson, one of several African-American women at NASA who, despite the racial prejudices of the 1950s and 1960s, developed computer systems to calculate trajectories for space missions.

ICT/Computer Science is constantly evolving and some of what we were teaching just a few years ago, is now outdated or has been superseded by something else. It is a constant challenge to keep up to date with the unending changes, but it also helps to keep the subject interesting and fresh.

Wendy Banks, Head of ICT