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Why Google's Eric Schmidt Is Only Partly Right About Science & Tech Education

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Google Chairman Eric Schmidt was the first non-television exec to deliver the McTaggart Lecture at the Media Guardian Edinburgh International Television Festival last night. A core part of his talk was on the state of "UK education", and how "over the past century, the UK has stopped nurturing its polymaths. You need to bring art and science back together." Britain should look to the "glory days" of the Victorian era for reminders of how the two disciplines can work together, he said. 

It was a time when the same people wrote poetry and built bridges. Lewis Carroll didn't just write one of the classic fairytales of all time. He was also a mathematics tutor at Oxford. James Clerk Maxwell was described by Einstein as among the best physicists since Newton -- but was also a published poet.

I was flabbergasted to learn that today computer science isn't even taught as standard in UK schools. Your IT curriculum focuses on teaching how to use software, but gives no insight into how it's made.

It's a shame, though, that he didn't Google a little more on the education system of the country in which he was speaking. Scotland.

There is no such thing as "UK education", only English and Welsh, Northern Irish and Scottish. The latter is significantly different from the others, and programming is a core part of our curriculum for excellence Technologies strand, from age 3 through to 18.

It's why my daughter learns input-process-output at nursery school (kindergarten) through computer programs and robots. It's why the literary structure and coding expertise needed to create a computer game is taught in more and more primary (elementary) schools. It's the reason that the very "learn how to use, not how to make it" approach to software has been questioned for the last eight years or more in Scottish computer science circles, and moves are made to reinstate the importance of programming at secondary (high school) level.

It's why our definition of 'text' in the Literacy (arts) guidance moves well beyond "the three Rs" and includes the likes of text messaging, computer games and the web at large.

In England, the education minister has gone from not mentioning technology at all in his curriculum and policy plans, to making piecemeal and out-dated contributions about how technology provides a great carrot and stick for learning. The differences between this and the forward-looking ambition of his Scottish counterpart are stark.

Yes, the McTaggart lecture is designed to "boil down to anger and arch-villains, impossible proposals and insults". But, Mr Schmidt, before going in for a great, potentially constructive insult for our neighbors, please accept an invitation to discover more about the country -- and its own education system -- that you have been kind enough to visit.

Read the McTaggart lecture in full.

This was originally posted at Ewan McIntosh's edu.blogs.com.