July 25, 2021

A compulsory subject of computer science in schools? | Technology

A compulsory subject of computer science in schools? | Technology



For several years it has been debated whether to learn computer science in secondary education or in high school, a debate that sometimes extends to primary education and even to early childhood education. The presence of computers in schools and institutes is not something new. Schools have been acquiring computers and other electronic equipment, such as digital whiteboards. Even computer programming has been present. Already in the 80s, with the appearance of personal computers, there were initiatives to teach children to program, but the success achieved at that time was modest and remained as interesting but failed initiatives.

In recent years new and numerous programming languages ​​have been created for children or young people. The most popular language is probably Scratch but there are many more: Alice, Greenfoot, Blockly, etc. These languages ​​provide a style of visual programming, more intuitive, sometimes even linked to devices or materials, such as circuits, robots or fabrics. At the same time there is talk that the new generations are "digital natives", since they have learned from an early age to use electronic devices. They are not usually conventional computers but more user-friendly devices for children, such as mobile phones, tablets or video game consoles. There is even talk that children and young people should acquire certain "computational thinking".

It would be very useful to put order in this gibberish, identifying how much is fashionable and how much useful for the education of children and youth. Only this way will be able to debate, decide and plan an eventual computer education.

Education has several objectives, among them that the new generations understand the world around them and that they are well prepared for their future life as adults. In today's information society, few will doubt the usefulness of computer education for both purposes. In addition, computer education would have other additional advantages. Currently, the presence of women in the computer sector is residual, following a decreasing trend of several decades. Familiarizing girls with new technologies can be a way to discard gender stereotypes and make them more attractive, decreasing the current digital divide between genders. Likewise, a greater digital competence of students and teachers would facilitate a material and methodological modernization of education. Last but not least, a better education of the Spanish population in ICTs would provide the country with a solid base for innovation and for greater international competitiveness.

Familiarization of girls with new technologies can be a way to discard gender stereotypes and make them more attractive, decreasing the current digital divide between genders

Although there is consensus on the advantages of introducing information technology in pre-university education, the best way to introduce it with hope of success should still be discussed. Each country has its own cultures and conditions, so there are no universal solutions. In particular, the only guarantee that all students would have access to this education (or any other subject) in the Spanish educational system would be its inclusion as a compulsory subject. Nowadays, the transversal learning of any subject does not guarantee its study, but it is left to chance to coincide with centers or enthusiastic teachers.

A joint working group of the Scientific Information Society of Spain (SCIE) and the Coordinator of Directors and Deans of Computer Engineering (CODDII) has developed a set of recommendations on computer education in the pre-university educational stages. In summary, it is proposed to modify the Spanish educational legislation to introduce a new subject called "Computing". This subject would be specified in a compulsory study subject from Primary Education to Baccalaureate. The computer science course should provide students with a broad general computer science culture that will provide them with ongoing training in the future. Their understanding should be deeper than pure instrumentality (the "digital competence"). Therefore, it would include knowledge and skills of computer science as a science, without reaching university specialization. This would be based on basic notions of programming and the main areas of information technology (data, computers, operating systems, networks and security).

The reader can consult on the web pages of SCIE and CODDI the full report and a summary thereof. You will find a detailed and reasoned proposal of the teaching of computer science in the different pre-university educational stages. Key issues for the implementation of the computer science course are also briefly addressed and a correspondence of the digital competence contents proposed with the European framework DIGCOMP (Digital Competence) is made.

Ángel Velázquez Iturbide He is a professor at the Rey Juan Carlos University.

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