BT steps in to help STEM curriculum with computing skills

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With more STEM skills, and a focus on computational thinking, it’s hoped that Britain will produce not only more inventors, but engineers, mathematicians and scientists

Following on from yesterday’s launch of National Inventors Day, we managed to grab a quick chat with BT about its further plans and why it has suddenly emerged as a champion of STEM topics.

Speaking with Jonathan Legh-Smith, BT’s head of partnerships and strategic research, it’s clear that its influence is aimed at helping pupils, and more importantly teachers, lose their fear of computer science.

As well as his role in the company’s R&D department, Legh-Smith also has a key involvement in education engagement, and is a strong advocate of the new curriculum that includes ‘a healthy dose of computer science’.
Having finally got the curriculum needed to help educate the population in both the old ICT skills, and now a bit of computational thinking (coding and tackling problems), the stumbling point is the teachers.

A lot of the primary school teachers are scared stiff at the idea of ‘thinking computationally’, and quite rightly. A rough figure shows that out of all the primary teachers in the country, only a dozen or so have a degree in a computational subject.

For the rest, the fear of teaching a five or six-year-old child how to code is a reality with very little support.

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This is where BT is looking to step in, promoting awareness – such as with its funding of the Science Museum’s new exhibition devoted to communication, and with National Inventors Day.

By supporting the Barefoot Computing initiative across England, the BT is helping develop teaching resources and set up training hubs using volunteers to help pass on skills to the teachers.

The key aim is to help teachers understand the core concepts. Little of what the mainstream media has said about the new curriculum is true – it’s not simply teaching coding – with more of the skills being likened to other problem solving topics like history and maths.

Removing the fear of the subject is at the heart of the project, and with around 15,000 primary schools, setting up little hubs to pass on training on “how to think computationally” is taking off.

As well as increasing the talent pool for BT to eventually pull its own staff from, the aim is to improve the overall technical literacy of the UK economy, where even small businesses need ICT services to operate in the modern market.

There are huge overlaps with the rest of the STEM topics, and the idea is to get children interested and comfortable with all the topics involved, letting them pick out a career later on, and hopefully benefitting engineering and design also further down the line.