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Computing At School: Educate... Engage... Encourage… A Spotlight on CAS!

CAS is an acronym for Computing at School, a self-professed grass roots organization and a UK based working group. CAS is active at many levels, having developed a body of knowledge for school-level computing; in spinning up “hubs” that bring teachers together in local groups; and in developing new material that teachers can use in the classroom.      

CAS seeks to work at many levels. They directly support ICT and computing teachers, by providing them with teaching material, training, local hubs, and the opportunity to meet with like-minded colleagues. They act as a subject association for computing teachers. They work at an institutional level and they advocate for computing at a national policy level. The CAS was borne out of like-minded and dedicated individuals from the UK. Although they focus their work in the UK, they also work and teach abroad.

The CAS is specifically oriented to computing. It is important to understand that Information and Communication Technology, or ICT and computing are separate fields. To better understand the work of CAS, they must first be differentiated. ICT is about the use of computers and their applications. Computing is about their design and implementation.

To use the analogy of a car:
ICT is the equivalent of teaching how to drive a car, and how to navigate it. Once basic skills have been learned (how to use the clutch), the emphasis is on appropriate choice of destination, how to drive safely, how to develop a good route to the destination, how to choose which car is the right vehicle. Everyone should be able to drive, and similarly every student should possess basic ICT skills, and some knowledge of how to use them.

Computing is the equivalent of teaching automotive engineering: how the clutch works, how to design new cars, and how to maintain existing ones. Computing is more than just programming, which in the car analogy would be the equivalent of metalwork. CAS believes that not everyone needs to know how to design or maintain a car. Similarly, only a subset of (able) students will want to study computing, just as only a subset want to study work in the automotive or related industry.

From CAS reports, the number of students applying to computing courses at university level has halved in the last 10 years, despite increasing take-up of university education, and strong employer demand. Ironically, many at universities directly attribute this fall in numbers to the increased spread of computing at school. They also found that the number of girls applying for such courses has reduced even more dramatically over the past 15 years. For the team at CAS, supporting, equipping, and training teachers are also part of the challenge as new technologies are always in demand. However, today, the world needs people to work in the Computing industry and there is an unmet demand. A recent study by the UK Council of Professors and Heads of Computing illustrates the problem: it predicts that demand for IT professionals will increase by up to 15% in the next eight years, while the number of students aiming for jobs in the industry has fallen by 50% since 2001.

Despite the challenges, CAS has come a long way in its short existence, just founded in 2010. They feel that there is a thirst among innovative teachers for putting excitement back into a curriculum increasingly seen as boring by young ’digital natives’. Up and down the country CAS hubs are meeting to discuss and swap ideas. The buzz of teachers getting together around a common purpose is infectious. The word is out — getting pupils to think creates sparks that can light a fire. CAS aims to build on previous successes— more local hubs, more student day schools and more teachers at their annual conference, which they assert is now firmly established as a ‘must attend’ event. CAS seeks to develop a ‘body of knowledge’ articulating what computing is about. They want a web presence where teachers can share resources and a network of enthusiasts so teachers can find support from university departments and industry specialists. Let us see what the year brings for this new and ambitious working group.