How computer science classes are conducted around the world: 5 key conclusions

At lovetocode company (a coding school for kids aged 9-15) they have been teaching kids ow to code for the past two years and they have experienced many transformations and went through hundreds of books and articles on their way. Now they want to share their conclusions with you. 

Programming is commonly perceived as difficult and inapplicable for children, even though many companies have already proved this to be nothing but a myth. Apple’s Swift Playground or Tynker are designed for children 5+, code.org platform offers classes for 4-year olds.

All these apps, however, are designed for voluntary extracurricular education. What is happening at schools meanwhile? 

1) Computer Science is not for teaching children how to use Microsoft Word/Excel or Paint, but is a class to learn the basics of algorithms and computational thinking - the never changing principles.

Almost all the countries where Computer Science is taught at primary school (Estonia, France, Israel, Spain, Slovakia, the UK, Finland, Poland, Portugal, partially the US, India, China, Australia) have made one simple discovery: teaching how to use software was a paradigm shift, that took place when Microsoft Office became popular. Since than even teachers who were just familiar with office programs could teach the students, in contrast to the earlier time when one should have been kind of maker - aware both of hardware and software.

 

The new “ Computer Science” school program in the UK (taken as an example) is based on a number of blocks on particular topics - algorithms, programming and development, data and visualisation, hardware and processing, communications and networks, informational technologies. Not solely on the software part.

 

2) Computer Science is a basic course just like physics or chemistry and should be taught starting from the beginning of primary school and up to the end of high school.

The mentioned countries have significantly changed the approach to computer science, while in post-Soviet countries it is often still a once-a-week class of secondary importance, just as physical education, music or dancing.

 

In Israel for example all the Computer Science lecturers have been re-qualified to be not just a user, but a true computer science professional.

 

3) Teaching computer science from primary school can reduce gender inequality in the IT sphere.

By secondary school children already have a vision on what is “for girls” and what things are “for boys”. Computer science usually falls into “for boys only” category, while this problem can be avoided by simply introducing the course earlier. Children who have been introduced to programming on earlier stage accept it easier and are less prone to stigmatising it.

 

4) Computer Science is not necessarily associated with just sitting in front of the computer. Very often we imagine a typical IT guy who is ‘sitting in front of the computer”.

Wearing glasses obviously. Sitting hunched. Often, we do not understand that computational thinking means principles of thinking, and programming afterwards, but not the other way round. Australia and New Zealand have the most experience in this area. It was them who  introduced CS unplugged — exercises to develop certain computational skills without using a computer. There is another benefit of such approach: technologies distract. This is why it is better to prepare a presentation draft on paper, structuring the ideas, and open Power Point only afterwards. The same applies to Computer Science — it is more important to understand the principles, and only then implement them in digital world.

 

Homework for primary and partly secondary consists of exercises to practice understanding without using a computer. Such an approach is also a solution for insufficient number of computers in some schools.

 

5) The main goal of Computer Science is not to make you a programmer, but to teach you how to think.

It is even more important to convince parents. There is one common characteristic of all the countries where Computer Science is widely and properly taught at schools - they have been communicating the importance of it a lot - with parents, school principals, teachers. In the UK they have even launched a campaign on the most popular country’s channels and the most read newspapers to explain parents “how to help your child learn computer science”, “what a parent should know” etc.

 

Alyona Tkachenko