Friday, 1 February 2013

Michael Gove, "Hero of government".

Michael Gove has had a few bad headlines this past week. Members of the Commons Educations Select Committee complained that his plans to replace GCSE's with a new English Baccalaureate (EBacc) threatened to "wreck the stability" of the exam system, as the Indepdendent gleefully reported. In the Guardian, Suzanne Moore accused him of "destroying our school system" and of committing the fearful crime of never having been a teacher. The "entire education system," she wrote, "is now one vast experiment without any aim except the reach of Gove's ambition." The "hawkish neo-con" is trampling on her children's "hopes and dreams", she wailed.

These complaints are remarkably short-term, and should be set against Gove's actual game-plan.  The world is changing rapidly, and few of the education secretary's detractors seem to understand how or why.  This week I've been attending a series of lectures by Google's executive chairman Eric Schmidt on where it's all headed, connectivity-wise: he summoned up a near future where criminals specialised in virtual kidnapping and "virtual honour crime", where parents would give their children weird names in the hope of getting them a high ranking on Google search and repressive governments will find it easier to control their populations but harder to commit atrocities with impunity. Too much to really summarise, but you can watch the first lecture on YouTube.

In 2011, Schmidt gave the McTaggart Lecture at the Edinburgh Festival, during the course of which he lamented the decline in computer science in British schools.   Since the glory days of Acorn's BBC Micro way back in the 1980s computing had largely been replaced by IT ("teaching how to use software, but with no understanding of how it is made.") Britain was "throwing away its great computing heritage", said Schmidt. This Wednesday, however, he had better news to relate. He was thrilled to discover that "you have a hero in your government. His name is Michael Gove."

Gove had just announced that computer science would be one of the basic scientific subjects in the Ebacc. A DfE spokesman suggested that millions of children would now become "active creators and controllers of technology instead of just being passive users." It "will help restore the spirit of Alan Turing and make Britain a world leader again." Eric Schmidt was just as effusive. Gove's move was "phenomenal news", he told the audience (some of whom predictably groaned); it was a "key decision" that in future decades will be seen to have secured Britain's future economic development.

So three cheers for Michael Gove, who once again has shown himself to be one of the most effective and far-sighted members of the government. Far from trampling on the dreams of Suzanne Moore's children, he might just have secured their, and all of our, futures.