Do Kids Still Need Courses In Basic Computer Skills?

from the readin,-ritin,-and-that-other-thing dept

Stats out of the UK say that the number of students taking IT and computer courses is falling. Fewer students are taking IT courses at the GSCE level, or at ages 13-16, and consequently fewer are studying and getting qualifications in it at sixth-form level, or when they’re 16-18, and the country’s Office for Standards in Education says this is cause for concern given the importance of IT skills in adult working life. It is certainly true that modern, advanced economies demand workers with computer skills, but perhaps the growing pervasiveness of home computers means that students are getting sufficient hands-on training, and don’t have as great a need for dedicated computer coursework as they once did? Also, the Office says that the schools doing the best job of teaching IT and computer skills are those that spread computer resources across multiple subjects, and don’t use them solely in specific IT courses. One would imagine that students’ general computer skills have risen across the board over the last several years, and they pick them up through their other coursework, and of course, their personal lives. Curriculum should adjust to reflect this, and if there is less call for general computer skills, IT coursework should be refocused to provide students interested in IT careers the best base possible from which to work.

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Comments on “Do Kids Still Need Courses In Basic Computer Skills?”

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Falling says:

typing class should be a required class imo… on the other hand I graduated HS in 2003, and as a freshman “Basic Computer Skills” was a required class. My opinion, is that yes kids learn how to use computers at home, but they might not be learning any “skills”. Computer use, and computer skill are way separate.

X says:

Re: Re: Hmm

I graduated highschool in 98 and I took a “computer science” classes. One of them ended up being a biology class where I had to use the computer to create an animation of some celluar process. Needless to say they really didn’t have any idea of what computer science actually meant. The other class also ended up being an animation class where we used “computerized” index cards to create an animation. I guess they were trying to relate it to punch cards used in the 70’s and 80’s yet this in 96/97 so I really have no idea what they were thinking.

Rose M. Welch says:

Re: Re:

typing class should be a required class imo

I humbly disagree. I started using computers when I was four years old, playing with ASCII symbols in a DOS program. I couldn’t really read but I sure could type what I wanted. Once I learned to read, my typing got even better.

Starting in middle school, I had teachers try to teach me ‘how to type’, which was a big waste of time for everybody involved. Now my own kids use computers at home. Same problem. By the time their school gets around to ‘teaching’ them, they will have developed their own method for typing, and they will likely be just as quick and accurate as I am.

So I think a keyboarding class is pretty useless. You can’t start before they learn to read but kids are using home computers before they learn to read. Kindergarten is just about too late.

However, I could see all students taking a typing proficiency test, and kids who are slow or have too many errors could be offered a remedial course.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:

I like your idea except most typing test suck. I failed every typing test because I know when I make a error and I hit backspace and continue on, well that make the program think I was making a ton of errors. Other programs had equally stupid ways of testing the typing and then you need to combine the fact that almost everyone types slower when copying something else written down Vs. typing what they are thinking.

OldGeek says:


I’m busy in school right now working on my MCITP and the majority of my fellow classmates (under 30 years old) have little to no idea how to use any Office apps. They seem to be very adapt at setting up and maintaining a MySpace page and installing and playing games and media players. But when it comes to something that is used in a work environment, they’re lost, they can’t even spell. What really amazes me is the inability to understand what’s written in the textbooks, and there written at a sixth grade level. But then again I’m in Texas where “No Child shall be Left Behind”, courtesy of George W. Bush when he was Governor.

Derek Kerton (profile) says:

Poor Folk


I think the “doesn’t everyone have a PC in the home” argument fails to consider those for whom the answer is no.

Poor families, families with terribly old PCs, families with many people sharing a single PC with no Internet connection, etc. All of these kids are at a disadvantage, and good public education should level the field a little.

Assuming everyone has a good PC available at home and it’s hooked into broadband is like assuming every kid gets a good night’s sleep and a nutritious breakfast. It just ain’t reality.

Andrew Kerr says:

I am graduating in May from college (biomechanical engineering). I was speaking to a friend from highschool who is still searching for a job when he graduates. He asked me to apply to a job for him because the job posting required .doc (microsoft word) format, and he did not have any program to do so. He emailed me his .txt file so I could convert it to a .doc and apply for the job for him.

Then I noticed the document was full of spelling, grammatical errors, and he had not written a Cover letter.

This guy is going to be graduating from a state college in Washington with a degree in business administration.
I feel bad for him.

Surely, if his classes had made him use a word processor, he would be much more literate. but, he is Effed.

Washii says:

Re: Re:

Wonder if he was required to take the same ‘Technical Writing’ course that CompSci and English majors alike had to take.

What was technical about the class you might ask? Writing memos. Oh, and learning ‘Gestalt Principles’ that had absolutely nothing to do with the papers we were writing (which was absolutely seconded by the English major in my group).

The course has apparently been redesigned. Probably partly because my class shocked the English Dept’s secretary by actually taking an almost full hour to fill course evaluations, and some people asking for staplers to attach pre-written, multi-page (12 point font) evals.

My Computer Science department dropped it as a requirement the school year after I took it, though. Yes, I’m still bitter about the class. What a waste of my loans.

Dan says:


Many young people don’t see IT as a viable career. When your job can be outsourced for a fraction of the pay or replaced by an H1B at the whim of a CFO and you are unemployed in a heartbeat. So they often look for something with legs. The tech CEO’s whine about lack of local talent but are the worst offenders by virtue of their hiring practices. You can’t automate all the machinist jobs and then complain about the lack of tool makers. A tool maker must spend considerable time as a machinist in able to become a tool maker. You don’t get more eggs by killing most of the chickens.

Anonymous Coward says:

I learned how to type just by typing. Other people tried teaching me, but it never worked. I always found the idea of holding your hands in certain positions and typing certain letters with certain keys to be cumbersome and difficult. My own typing style is one I developed on my own, without any training, and I’m as good a typist as many who’ve had typing classes. I no longer even need to look at the keyboard, and I know where the various keys are instinctively.

So no, kids don’t need typing classes. They will develop their own style on their own.

Celes says:

Re: Re:

It’s true that people will develop their own typing style. My friend can type a decent 40 wpm and only uses 2 fingers (don’t ask me how she does it, I’ve tried and I suck at it). Typing the way everyone tells you to, I can get 50-60 wpm depending on if I’m looking at a paper, but I also do 30-35 using just one hand because at my job it’s frequently useful to be able to write/highlight and type at the same time.

However, I think that some children can benefit from typing classes, but perhaps it should be more of a tutoring program for children who demonstrate need rather than a full-fledged class.

Lawrence D'Oliveiro says:

What Are "Computer Skills"?

Is it learning how to use just one word processor? Or is it comparing the similarities and differences between AbiWord, KWrite, Writer and Microsoft Word, perhaps also looking at a more page-layout-oriented app like Scribus, and goiing farther afield to markup languages like TEX and HTML?

This is the difference between “training” and “education”: one teaches you the way through one particular maze, which will be obsolete by the time you leave school, while the other gives you principles that you can apply to any maze in which you may find yourself.

Rekrul says:

When I was in high school, 8-Bit computers like the Apple were still in use. I wanted to take the computer class that my school offered, but it required you to have already taken things like Advanced Algebra, Advanced Geometry, etc.

I ended up getting a Commodore 64 for Christmas and teaching myself simple programming by reading the manual that came with it. I also read magazines like Compute! and bought books of type-in games. Eventually I learned some simple Assembly. I never got good enough to write playable games, but I did create some small utilities and such. Along the way I learned things like copying disks and files, directly editing the contents of a disk, etc.

When I switched to the Amiga, I had pretty much lost my interest in programming due to the increase in complexity that came with a 16-Bit system. I figured that by the time I got comfortable with it, something else would have come along. However, I was still familiar with manipulating files, learning new programs, etc. I could easily learn and use a new word processor program while others struggled to learn how to use just one.

Now that I use Windows, it’s pretty much the same as far as using the system and learning new programs.

The part that amazes me though, is that most other people seem to be downright clueless where computer are concerned. They have no idea how to copy or move files, how to change associations, etc. If something isn’t saved to their desktop, they have no idea how to find it. Ask someone to look inside a file to see what the header says and they’ll double-click it because that’s the only thing that they know how to do with a file. Tell someone that they can change the way a program works by editing the program’s INI file and changing some of the parameters, and all you’ll get is a blank stare. Most people have no idea of all the different things they can do with a computer. They basically see it as an expensive box that can do a few select things.

As for typing, I never learned to touch type. I developed my own style that uses about 3 three fingers on each hand. I won’t claim that I’m as good as a real typist, because I’m not, but I’m not a hunt-&-peck typist either. I tried to learn touch typing once, but I just couldn’t get used to it.

Rob says:

The country is doomed

Too many of the young, born after 1985 or so, rely to heavily on texting, Myspace, and Facebook as the primary forms of communication. This is ridiculous. This form of communication doesn’t require you to spell perfectly or use proper grammar. If I was in charge of anything, I would make it possible that schools have cell phone canceling devices (no texting in school). I’m glad I’m not a teacher dealing with all of this out there, and no one doing anything about it.

chris (profile) says:

white kids in the suburbs... probably not

but everyone else probably does.

if there were a way for people to learn about computers and the internet (not just how to use windows and word) so it dispelled some of the magic that seems to surround computers, and maybe introduced people to some of the culture of the internet, maybe there wouldn’t be so many people supporting stupid laws and it would cut down on some of the hurt feelings that come with learning the hard lessons.

Anonymous Coward says:

If I was in charge of anything, I would make it possible that schools have cell phone canceling devices (no texting in school). I’m glad I’m not a teacher dealing with all of this out there, and no one doing anything about it.

you must be behind the times then, they already have these devices. they’re called hawk-eyed teachers with mirrors around the room

mcc says:

Computer Science vs Basic Computer Usage

The classes this report is talking about are not exactly basic computer skills classes. In particular, sixth form classes are in depth computer science classes. While I can’t speak for the current curriculum, I took sixth form computer science in 1981-82 (then known as an ‘A’ or Advanced Level class) in the UK and our curriculum included logic circuits and boolean algebra plus programming in basic and fortran in the first year (sixth form is 2 years) and cobol (this WAS 1982!) and assembler in the 2nd year.
I now live in the US (working for a very large software company) and had 2 sons graduate high school in the last few years, and the computer classes they were offered were nothing more than very basic windows and Word usage and some photoshop skills. Not exactly the same thing.

PaulT (profile) says:

Of course they do… what a silly question. Would you say “oh, these kids already read books at home, what do they need English classes for?”.

The pervasiveness of home computing removes some of the stigma and perhaps fear of computers that may have existed in previous generations. It also means that the basic operation of a keyboard, mouse and internet browser are no longer necessary. But, I doubt that most kids have learned to use a word processor and spreadsheet effectively and other tools they would be expected to know in the workplace. They probably haven’t been taught how to effectively filter the information they get from Google and Wikipedia to get something truthful and useful.

As for the number of kids taking computing courses, well that’s inevitable. I.T. was seen for a long time as a “get rich quick” scheme, a road to guaranteed high incomes. This is no longer the case, and as many jobs get outsourced to other countries the students looking for their fortunes are turning back to MBAs and the like. If you’re not inherently tech-minded, I.T. has lost its lustre as a career, so less students are studying it.

However, that’s got nothing to do with whether or not students need to be taught basic I.T. skills – they’ll still need them regardless of their career path.

Wayout says:

How many of the kids know anything beyond facebook, myspace, twitter etc…I work for a community college and see it every day..typing should be taught. so should office and general computing to the students…its amazing to watch these kids who grew up with computers be stumped by the simple stuff sometimes..They learn what they need to learn to operate within the social sites and most (not all) never bother to go beyond those skills…I guess they dont see the need for them until the real world smacks them in the face after they leave school..
But hey it’s job security for me…so let me rethink

Anonymous Coward says:

The reason there is a drop in the enrollment of highschool students in computer courses is that most of the courses offered in high schools that are intended for more than students who intend to be IT majors are limited to little more than basic Microsoft Office functionality, and occasionally basic HTML. For most students, to learn this is school is kind of absurd. Most students know the basics of Work, PowerPoint and Excel because they have to use them anyway, either in their ‘core’ classes, or simply in their everyday lives. The same is true with very basic web design; most students, as unfortunate as this sounds, learn the basics of HTML from MySpace.
Such basic computer knowledge is like speech or hand-printing: the only reasons to take it in secondary school are if you are extra-ordinarily deficient, or if you intend to become a specialist in your post-secondary education.

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