St John's College

Information Technology (IT) is an FET subject offered to College pupils as an IEB subject.

Why should pupils study programming? Isn't it enough to study how to use computer applications for school and business?

It is certainly very important for pupils to be comfortable using computers for their work and for their own enjoyment, and to have a good comprehension of what common applications do and how to use them well. Much of the basic curriculum focuses on this aspect of computing. In our experience, however, it is also important to teach programming, an entirely different aspect of computing, for several reasons.

Programming is an empowering experience; pupils learn to recognise how the computer is instructed to do things and can be shaped to perform whatever task is necessary. This helps pupils feel more comfortable with computers, solidifying the understanding that they are truly in control of the computer.

Programming is challenging, and success requires skills in deduction, problem-solving, and learning how to put together powerful and complex solutions built out of simple pieces. Pupils learn how to diagnose their own errors and how to solve them in a deterministic setting with tools at their disposal that will help them succeed. These skills help them to become better problem solvers in a general sense, applying deductive skills and the ability to analyse results relative to their changes to problems in computing and problems in the world at large.

Along with this challenge, programming is very fun and rewarding. Pupils will feel the thrill of solving a difficult problem, the satisfaction of discovering a bug that has eluded them for some time, the excitement at viewing the completed, functioning result, and the joy of having their own work mould the computer into a useful tool. Though there is frustration in programming, pupils also report that success in the face of these challenges is very rewarding. The overall result is that they find programming to be a fun experience.

As a College pupil, you are likely to know how to use a computer for many tasks – from word processing to surfing the Web to managing your music, photo and movie collections. You are probably also aware of the pervasive presence of computers in everyday life – in transportation, communication, entertainment, household appliances, educational institutions, government, and business.

IT is the discipline that has made this entirely new way of life possible. The study of IT will give you a broad and deep understanding of the fundamental concepts and principles underlying much of our world.

There are several special aspects of IT that make it an important and useful field of study.

IT focuses on the discovery and development of algorithms, or methods of solving problems that can be automated. No matter what field you work in, if you can conceptualise the solution of a problem as an algorithm, that problem can be solved with a computer. Algorithmic thinking that you learn to do in IT is a systematic and general-purpose approach to problem-solving that cuts across all of the disciplines in science, engineering and the arts. 

IT has sometimes been called the “science of the artificial”. Programmers design and construct descriptions (algorithms) of entirely new processes never before encountered in nature. These processes can make or bring into being an entirely artificial world. Unlike the real world of artefacts created by artists, craftsmen and engineers, the world created by programmers can be entirely virtual. By learning how to design and program in IT, you will become a better designer in any field. 

The “things” that the programmer makes and manipulates with algorithms are pieces of information. Many of these “bits” are digitised representations of “real things”, such as photographs, musical tunes and movies. The computer programmer focuses on how to organise and control the complexity of this information so that it can better represent reality. The skills of organising and managing the complexity of information that you acquire in IT are important in almost any area of work or study. 

Another reason for interest in IT is excitement about social media and mobile technologies. “The perception that IT is cool is spawned by all the interesting things on the Web. The iPhone and Web 2.0 reinforces the excitement, and that attracts the best students,” says Peter Harsha, director of government affairs with the Computing Research Association.

Technology and science are transforming our world, changing the way we do business, the way we learn, the way we communicate, and even the way we entertain ourselves. Success in any field – law, medicine, business, education, entertainment, finance and investment – requires a command of technology. As the convergence of telecommunications and computing, IT is the foundation of the 21st-century economy. The US Bureau of Labor Statistics ranks the profession as the number one fastest-growing profession over the next years. IT offers fascinating, mission-critical, high-paying jobs, and multiple career paths.