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Revitalizing the UK games industry at the source: Education
Revitalizing the UK games industry at the source: Education
March 22, 2012 | By Mike Rose

The topic of computer science education in the UK has been a hot one in recent months. Currently UK schools teach ICT lessons, which essentially boil down to children learning how to use Microsoft Word and Powerpoint.

Fortunately, thanks to the work of people like Ian Livingstone, life president of Eidos, the curriculum is soon set for reform, with a new computer science course due to replace ICT in select schools starting from this September.

"For years we've been boring our children to death," said Livingstone at a Thursday seminar on the future of the UK video game industry attended by Gamasutra. "ICT is not computing... we've wasted generations of people who can't code."

The industry veteran is currently pushing through his September curriculum plans, to make them happen in as many schools as possible. Other notable names in the sector are also working to push computer science in education, including Paul Durrant, director of business development at the University of Abertay Dundee.

Abertay Dundee is currently one of the best universities for computer science in the UK, and Durrant says this is due to the subject being embedded in a variety of other influences at the institute. Schools and universities needs to be prepared to make the change, he warned, as it will take "unprecedented effort" to successfully make it happen.

"Computer Science is the new Latin," stated a number of speakers.

Frontier's David Braben, who is encouraging computer science education via the Rasberry Pi initiative, linked the shortage of women in the video games industry with the lack of proper computer science education at an early level. "It's not that the industry isn't hiring women," he explained. "Women just aren't applying!"

Women see computers as "getting from A to B," he claims, while boys don't question where they are going with computers, but rather admire what can be done.

The Government may be more opposed to bringing talk of computers and coding to schools that it first appears, however, as Blitz Games' Phillip Oliver chimed in from the audience with some enlightening insight.

He had hoped to talk about video games at various schools, but found that he was "banned from schools" as he had not received a standard CRB personnel check.

Even once he was able to talk, he was told that he must be paid to talk, and that if schools attempted to contact him directly about talking, they would be sued for not going through the appropriate channels.

Surprised faces from the panel showed exactly how they all felt about this revelation, with David Braben describing it as "shameful."

However, STEMNET's head of communications Teresa Sutton assured Oliver that this was due to be altered.

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Philip Oliver
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Slight correction & more detail...
4-5 years ago I was contacted by the local council to become an Ambassador for Industry to go in and give talks at schools - something I was keen to support. I had to attend an annoying meeting where one of the items was to fill in a CRB check. I was to be called an Enterprise Ambassador, & deliver school talks on this subject.
I delivered a few to local schools around Leamington.
About 18 months later I was asked to go to another school to do another talk - this time they asked for it to be call Entrepreneur Ambassador - made little difference to me so I agreed. Next thing I knew I was I invited to another meeting on how to talk in schools & complete another CRB check.
I said no way - its a waste of my time - I've got a CRB. 'arh, but it's for a different role I was told'. I said tell those who make the decisions there to accept the CRB I have or I don't do the talk. They said - ok your are not doing the talk. So for the last few years I've done no talks be because my CRB has the wrong title! So I assumed.

Last Autumn I went in to help a student in a local school - I was spotted by a senior teacher who said 'we loved your talk, it was inspirational - we'd love to invite you back.' So I said, 'so ask me', She said that when they'd asked the council for me, the council said they would be charging for my attendance. Sadly they had no budget for this and had to decline. She was then told 'do not contact Mr Oliver directly as you will be in breach of contract!'.
I asked this teacher to put this writing, but when she looked a little deeper she discovered the council dept in question had been closed in recent cut backs.

I hope to do a talk soon with the school in question.

My learning points: CRB's have done a lot of damage in allowing adults to support & inspire children's education & development and it needs reform or removal.
Also, Councils can impliment policies that are immoral & detrimental to children's education.

Thank you,

Philip Oliver
CEO Blitz Games Studios

Mike Rose
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Hey Philip, cheers for expanding - your story was intriguing to say the least, but obviously since you were a little rushed for time and talking from an audience isn't the easiest task, it's welcome to hear the longer version of the story.

Mike Reddy
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CRBs are NOT necessary when you will be fully supervised and not in solo contact with children. It's a ridiculous waste of time and effort, and ultimately steals opportunities from kids just so bureaucrats can say they've covered their arses!

Chris Dickinson
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"For years we've been boring our children to death," "ICT is not computing... we've wasted generations of people who can't code."

All too true for Britain's education system while I grew up there, at least in East Anglia. Computer Science hadn't even dawned on me until I was into my 3rd year of my Master's Degree program in Physics and its not until about 6 years later that I've recently come to realize my aptitude for it.

Computer/IT classes in my local schools and colleges consisted of nothing more than how to use really simple computer programs - and usually something that was already outdated. As someone who had played more than their share of computer games, I was more than adept enough at computers that these were just a complete waste of my time - boring me to death, as the man says.

I don't recall any outlets to explore the world of computer programming when I grew up. In fact, I remember considering doing my A-levels (and presumably degree) in IT because while I knew it had nothing to do with computer programming, it was probably the closest thing I could get to it. I certainly never knew anyone growing up who ever considered computer science and programming. We all figured it was some arcane, fantastical study program you could only begin at a University level.

I don't believe the man's kidding when he says the UK has wasted generations of people who can't code.

Mike Reddy
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I *DO* hate the unnecessary derisory "bash the teachers" rhetoric that always accompanies these discussions, and call out Ian, who regularly states he's "not an educator, but…", every time I can. How to win friends and influence people! If I, as a teacher, said "Well that was crap!" every time a student made an error, it would only serve to alienate and demoralise that student. We "actual" educators have had enough bashing. I'd like to sit on stage with Ian, say at a develop this year, and remind him of all the bloody excellent, with few resources, work that many many teachers AND students are doing. Just go to the LWF Conference to see that this country has not been failing its youth in nearly so many ways as the NextGenSkills movement present.