Computer Science at School
In the past decades, a digital revolution has taken place. Whereas
grandparents sometimes have to make their first steps towards the
computer, professionally active people use the computer daily, and
children grow up with a smartphone or a (tablet-)computer within reach.
Moreover, children usually manage to work with these devices without
reading a manual. In elementary school, children already learn to use
computers to look for information, to process it, and to verify the
accuracy and the reliability of the obtained data. Impact on privacy and
the risks connected to an online presence are also discussed.
Learning to use computer tools is evidently of vital importance. There is however much more to be learned! All children should be able to follow the fast technological evolution of informatics. To this end, they should learn to understand the underlying working principles of informatics and acquire an insight into the concepts that form the basis of these technologies. Additionally, there is a need for a sufficient number of young people that are able to steer this technological evolution, implying that they are both willing and able to create new technologies. Both objectives require a substantial amount of computer science in compulsory education. However at the moment, the existing and limited education in computer science in the elementary and secondary schools is based only on the enthusiasm of politicians, educational institutes and teachers of various disciplines. This has resulted in successes but, unfortunately, also in failures. The education in computer science has to be reformed in a structured manner. To this end, there is a need for well-qualified teachers and a solid and well-maintained computer infrastructure in schools. When these conditions are met, training in computer science in elementary and secondary schools can be an excellent preparation for more advanced curricula in computer science in colleges and universities.
The KVAB (Koninklijke Vlaamse Academie van België voor Wetenschappen en Kunsten – Royal Flemish Academy of Belgium for Science and the Arts), through its “Klasse van de Technische Wetenschappen” (Class of the Technical Sciences), and the “Jonge Academie” (Young Academy) have created a working group, called “Informaticawetenschappen in het Leerplichtonderwijs” (Computer Science in the Compulsory Education). The assignment was to analyze the current situation and to formulate recommendations to politicians, top managers in the educational institutes, academics, members of the business community and interested citizens. The work of this working group has resulted in the present report, in which two major recommendations and a series of derived recommendations can be found. The two major recommendations are:
Both in elementary and secondary education, a strong curriculum of computer science has to be adopted in compulsory education. The planned education reform offers a unique opportunity to do this. (See Chapter 3)
To offer respectable education in computer science, the training of the teachers has to be adapted with respect to content and made more attractive. At the same time, in-service training of the existing teaching staff has be implemented, both in the short and long term. (See Chapter 4.4.)
It should be clear that this report does not deal with the teaching of traditional courses with the support of computer tools, but with the teaching of computer science as a basic course, similar to mathematics, physics, etc. After all, computer science has become an autonomous discipline with its own way of thinking and own basic concepts. Moreover, the acquired skills are clearly transferable to other STEM domains. The report argues that every young person has to become “digitally literate” and “digitally fluent” and able to think “computationally”. This digital fluency provides fundamental knowledge, and a skill and attitude that will help the young grown-up to contribute to society in both a professional and a private context. Moreover, we should offer the opportunity to every interested young person to deepen their knowledge in computer science. This provides an important and increasingly vital value for higher education in STEM curricula, including computer science. The KVAB and the Young Academy are not the only academies that have taken the initiative to analyze the current situation and make recommendations. The discussion in the working group
is not limited to Flanders. Our neighboring countries, the United Kingdom, France and the Netherlands, have already performed a similar analysis, and have written a report with their findings. The recommendations in these reports are similar to ours. This convergence shows that the line of thought and the conclusions may be called “universal”. One should not be surprised that the recommendations in this KVAB report bear close resemblance to those of the neighboring countries. If Flanders aspires to become a knowledge society that belongs to the leaders of the digital world then we need a fast and powerful reform of the curriculum in computer science in compulsory education. We hope that our politicians will appreciate and strongly support our message.