This month at london web standards, Opera’s Chris Mills (@chrisdavidmills) and Anna Debenham (@anna_debenham) came down to talk to us about education and the web. Anna has recently been through the UK education system and had her tales from the trenches of what it’s really like to be educated in the web at school.
ICT education on the web and making web sites is awful. Since 2003, ICT has been mandatory at key stage 3 and 4 (SATS and GSCEs or ages 14 and 16 (ish)). Over the past few years, the curriculum has been so basic that children often know more than their teachers. This isn’t the teacher’s fault.
Anna showed us some of the resources teachers are given and one of the bits of coursework. The website was for the band “purple spiders” and consisted of some images, links and a purple background colour. Seriously, it was as basic as that. There were form pages with no submit button. Music download pages that said if you downloaded music you were a criminal.
Teachers have a certain amount of recommended software, and principally it’s MS Office. If it’s not on the list they don’t get funding for it. Almost zero open source software is to be found. Every course told you to use tables for layout, because that’s what the software can do well. Ofsted, the teaching governing body, recognise that ICT is misused.
EdExcel, the examining body, seem to be rising above this. Their 2011 curriculum has encouraging statements like “knowledge of accessibility” and “creative commons”.
Anna talked about the perception of age in the web world. There are many success stories, including Matt Mullenweg creating WordPress before his 18th birthday. However, there is a general bias against young people in that experience counts in web design.
Anna also taught us that Flash is terrorism. She put a flash-based interactive room map of her school on their web site which they wouldn’t allow because “it would aid terrorism”. You heard it here first.
How to help
So, what can we do? Courses need to be made more interesting and relevant. Whilst “common software” like Office won’t go away any time soon, the teachers need better resources, and importantly, better tools. Adobe can help here, and so can Microsoft, making their most common tools more web-standards oriented.