Should computer lessons be compulsory?
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TEACHER CLASS ICT PUPIL

KELVIN KACHINGWE, Lusaka
HAVING recognised the importance of information communication technology (ICT) in the spheres of life, the Ministry of General Education made it a compulsory subject in schools.
But at its first test last year, when pupils sat for examinations, the story that came out prominently was that of pupils having to stay late into the night at their schools to be able to have their computer exams.
Obviously, this was due to inadequate materials or computers.
The Ministry of General Education was compelled to apologise.
The Minister of General Education gave more light through a ministerial statement in Parliament.
Dr John Phiri explained that in January 2014, the ministry announced the phased implementation of the revised primary and secondary school curricula, starting with grades one, five, eight and 10. These classes progressed to grades two, six, nine and 11 in 2015.
The first examinations of the revised curriculum were administered at the Grade nine level last year, and one of the subjects in the revised curriculum is computer studies.
The subject examination is divided into two papers; paper one, which is theory, consists of sections A, B and C, of which section A has 15 multiple choice questions, section B has 15 short answer questions while section C has four long answer questions. The total mark for this paper is 60 percent of the overall examination.
Paper two, which is a practical, consists of two compulsory questions drawn from word processing, spreadsheets, desktop publishing, presentation and multimedia, and the candidates are required to answer using a computer. This paper accounts for 40 percent of the examination. Last year, Paper two required candidates to work on simple spreadsheet and to type a letter, all with simple instructions.
There are two institutions working together in the implementation of the new curriculum. The first one is the Examinations Council of Zambia (ECZ), which is mandated to set and print examination scripts and process examination results up to the their declaration. The second institution is the Ministry of General Education, which is responsible for procuring requisites for practical examinations, storing examination materials at regions and centres, invigilating and supervising examinations, collecting examination fees, and publishing and announcing the results.
In this regard, the ECZ was exonerated from the happenings of November 2015, because it followed the guidelines to the letter. This is why the ministry took full responsibility for what took place.
Dr Phiri elaborated:
“My ministry guided the ECZ to commence the formulation of the examination syllabus for computer studies and all other subjects based on the revised Grade 8-9 syllabus and the council undertook many preparatory activities between 2013 and 2015.
“Notable among them was one major consultative meeting on 7th April, 2015, in which the rules to be used in grading candidates in the grade nine examinations based on the revised curriculum were agreed on,” he explained.
“Taking into consideration the inadequacy or absence of equipment, teachers and teaching resources for computer studies in some schools, the ministry, the ECZ and other stakeholders agreed that candidates for the Junior Secondary School Leaving Examinations (JSSLE) would be graded on any best six subjects.
“That was meant to ensure that candidates who may not have had adequate resources to learn computer studies would not be disadvantaged because they could still fall back on any other subject, and there would be no work overload on them, as all subjects would, then, be optional for grading purposes only. This rule will be followed.
“Six passes are required for a learner to progress from Grade Nine to Grade 10. Therefore, during this transitional phase, as we expand access to the new and revised content, the computer studies examination will be optional. So, while all pupils will learn the subject, only schools and learners who are adequately prepared will be examined. In other words, for now, the teaching of the subject will be compulsory, but its examination will be optional. The candidates will be graded in any best six subjects.
“Learners who follow the academic career path take eight subjects, namely, business Studies, English Language, computer studies integrated science, social studies, mathematics, religious education and Zambian Languages, with French, Chinese and Portuguese as options, although French is the only one of the three on offer.
“The other two await the development of syllabi. Learners who follow the vocational career path have five options to choose, namely, agriculture, technology, performing and creative arts, physical education and sports, and home economics and hospitality. In each chosen path, learners must study seven subjects, the vocational subject and computer studies, English language, mathematics, integrated science, social studies, and business studies, except for performing and creative arts learners, who take Zambian languages instead of business studies.”
Indeed, candidates who may not have done the computer studies practical examination or who may not perform well in the subject can still do well in the other subjects, and be certified and selected to Grade 10.
This information, unfortunately, did not filter through the structures of the ministry, hence the stampede and confusion in some schools in November last year.
That said, ICT should be a compulsory lesson in schools, and there are many reasons to support that.
Well, given how integral digital technology has become to so many aspects of life, it is only essential that all pupils should be entitled to develop their understanding of information technology, including both digital literacy and computational thinking while at primary and secondary schools.
Miles Berry, a principal lecturer and the subject leader for computing education at the University of Roehampton, United Kingdom, in his blog “An Open Mind; a personal perspective on education, technology and culture”, did justify this point.
Berry wrote that ICT is complex although nevertheless well-defined subject in its own right, and whilst its delivery is often through practical work sometimes crossing boundaries with other subject disciplines, the body of knowledge which it contains must be recognised as an essential component of a modern education and does not properly form part of any other national curriculum subject. Neither should this body of knowledge be confused with the use of ICT skills or systems in learning or teaching the content of other subjects, just as English retains its identity as a subject in addition to being the medium of instruction and learning across the curriculum.
He said the inclusion of ICT as a compulsory subject at all stages of the national curriculum, over and beyond the role of digital technologies in supporting, extending and enriching learning and teaching across the curriculum, is necessitated by many factors.
“Given the extent to which pupils make use of digital technology in their studies and personal lives, and the extent to which they are likely to use them in adult life, they should be taught the fundamental principles and concepts underpinning IT.
“It is insufficient to know how to use these systems. Pupils should understand how such systems operate, the processes which are followed in their construction, and something of the theory which underpins computer programmes and complex information systems,” he said.
“An all-round, liberal education in the third millennium must include an understanding of digital technology including computing. This has become as important as poetry and algebra, and probably more useful than either.
“An understanding of digital technology and computing extending beyond operator skills, results in: the economic benefits of a digitally literate workforce with a deep understanding of computational thinking, and a growing stream of individuals capable of high quality creative work in digital media, software and hardware is vital for the future success of industry and the economy as a whole.”
The point has been sufficiently made.

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