Computer Science vs Information Technology vs Digital Literacy

I was inspired to put my thoughts down on virtual paper by a recent blog post from Joe Roy. He included the image (below) from the 2012 Royal Society report “Shut down or restart?” that suggests dividing ICT into “Computer Science”, “Information Technology” and “digital literacy”.

Image source: Royal Society 2012

The more I consider this debate, the more I tend to consider “digital literacy” and “Computer Science” as discrete subjects.

Driver vs Mechanic

If I use the (sloppy but convenient) “driver vs mechanic” analogy; you don’t have to understand the technical workings of a car to drive one well, but a little technical understanding could help you in some circumstances. Some people might become talented drivers, others might become talented mechanics, and some might become talented engineers.

Driver vs Mechanic: All of the people pictured are highly skilled, but in different ways.

What could/should schools do?

Using the driver/mechanic analogy, here are 3 ideas relevant to where we are now:

  1. Schools teach students to “drive” (and drive carefully/responsibly). This is “digital literacy“.
  2. Schools teach students “basic mechanics” (eg. how to top up the oil, change a fuse, change a headlamp bulb). This is part of “Computer Science” but might be called “Information Technology“.
  3. Schools offer those children who have a passion for “mechanics” the opportunity to learn more (eg. how a combustion engine works). This is a specific qualification in Computer Science.

There is no doubt that Computer Science understanding will increase a student’s digital literacy (eg. understanding HTML could help students when embedding video from one webpage into another).

Do schools actually need to make this distinction clear to children (particularly in the early stages from Key Stages 1 to 3)? Perhaps they just need to cover digital literacy and a bit of Computer Science in compulsory lessons, with an option for children to take Computer Science further (GCSE and beyond) if they wish?

Back to the original question; what do we call the subject? Since no-one outside of education has ever heard the term ICT*, my personal preference would be “Information Technology“.

but I’m happy to stick with “ICT” for now, at least up to GCSE level…

* Hideous generalisation, but prove me wrong?

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