Computing our future

I've been privileged to be attending the Google CS Outreach Partners Summit in Sydney over the past couple of days where the conversations have focused on how we can promote computational thinking and coding in our schools for students of all ages. It's a timely visit, particularly as the Hour of Code is gaining momentum currently around the world.

Lots of reference has been made at the Summit to the Australian Federal Government's recent announcement that they will spend almost $1.1 billion in the next four years to promote business-based research, development and innovation, which includes money to be set aside to help students in years 5 and 7 learn coding. (I wonder if we'll hear a similar announcement on our side of the ditch in Auckland next Monday?)

Google has, of course, been providing support for programmes like this for a while now, including the successful CS4HS and CS-First programmes – plus they offer a huge amount of other resources and support on their Google For Education website. And so too does Microsoft, with their Virtual Academy, and their support for Hour of Code, and computer science student resources (app) for example. 

Despite this, however, the uptake of interest in computer science and digitally-related careers lags well behind the level fo demand – with CS and digi-tech yet to be appropriately recognised within the curriculum of many international jurisdictions. 

computing our futureSo it was of interest I read a publication recently released by the European SchoolNet organisation, titled Computing our Future (PDF downoad) – documenting what is happening in this area across the European context. 

The preface to the document includes the following:

The challenge for the Education sector is to upskill the future workforce, but more importantly to empower young people with the competences to master and create their own digital technologies, and thrive in the society of today. We believe that teaching and learning how to code, in formal and non-formal education settings, will play a significant role in this process.

I like the fact that the focus is wider than simply preparing kids for future employment, and includes the notion of 'thriving in the society of today'. 

While this report is austensibly focused on providing an update on what is happening in the various countries in Europe, there is a lot of valuable material in here for educational leaders who are considering the place and value of computer science and coding in the curriculum – particularly those who may be at the start of their journey of thinking about this. The document includes some really useful graphics and definitions that will be helpful. 

Of particular interest to me is section 3 of the document which looks at integrating coding into the curriculum (very timely in terms of the NZ context). Among the 21 countries in this report, coding is already part of the curriculum (at national, regional or local level) in 16 of them. Countries generally have multiple reasons for integrating coding in the curriculum – reinforcing the understanding that this is about much more than simply preparing kids for future jobs as programmers, in fact, the aim of fostering employability in the sector is key for only eight countries. The majority of countries aim to develop students’ logical thinking skills (15 countries) and problem-solving skills (14 countries), thus addressing 21st century skills. More than half of the countries, namely 11, focus on the development of key competences and coding skills. 

Key questions I'm pondering:

  • how should computational thinking, computer science, coding (interchangeable terms to some degree) be included in our NZ curriculum for the future?
  • what are the key messages we must develop to ensure this is not simply about preparing for future employment – but about developing essential skills, knowledge and competencies to thrive in the digital world of the 21st century?
  • How can we best utilize the abundance of resource already available to support what can happen in schools – but needs to be distributed more widely?

 

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