The Old Person’s ICT Curriculum

Due to some mysterious glitch, this morning’s Observer column appeared in the paper edition but not on the Web. So here’s a pdf version. Sample:

The QCA is a fascinating organisation, staffed by responsible adults in suits. It produces tons of earnest documents, all of them possessing a single common property, namely that of reducing their readers’ will to live. Put such an organisation in charge of designing a curriculum on ICT, and you can predict the result: An Old Person’s Guide to ICT.

The Old Person’s ICT Curriculum (OPIC) has three ‘themes’: ‘using ICT systems’; ‘finding and exchanging information’; and ‘developing and presenting information’. The first involves learning a Key Skill — that of ‘interacting with ICT for a purpose’. Pupils should be taught important things like ‘take a turn playing a screen-based game, using a mouse, selecting options and keying in information’. Teachers should ensure that pupils are able to ‘choose between option buttons displayed on a cashpoint screen’, ‘follow instructions when using interactive TV’ and ‘receive a text message to make arrangements, e.g. where to meet a friend’.

Now I know what you’re thinking, dear reader. You think I am making this up. In that case, can I refer you to the QCA’s draft ‘ICT Skill for Life Curriculum Document’ released in September 2005 and available online from

There’s a surreal quality to the QCA’s ICT curriculum. It conjures up images of kids up and down the country trudging into ICT classes and being taught how to use a mouse and click on hyperlinks; receiving solemn instructions in the creation of documents using Microsoft Word and of spreadsheets using Excel; being taught how to create a toy database using Access and a cod PowerPoint presentation; and generally being bored out of their minds.

And then the same kids go home and log onto Bebo or MySpace to update their profiles, run half a dozen simultaneous Instant Messaging conversations, use Skype to make free phone calls, rip music from CDs they’ve borrowed from friends, twiddle their thumbs to send incomprehensible text messages, view silly videos on YouTube and use BitTorrent to download episodes of ‘Lost’.

And when you ask them what they did at school today they grimace and say ‘We made a PowerPoint presentation, Dad. Yuck!’