Wait for School Boards to Introduce Computer Science Curriculum or Should Parents and Educators Take the Initiative ?

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Quite recently, a young man in North India, approached me for a job.  Upon querying what he can do, he replied “Main Computer Chalatha Hoon”.  This kept ringing in my mind, does one drive a computer like a car or use computer like a car.  The widespread dispersion of computing devices like laptops, tablets and smartphones has put the internet and software at anyone’s command that you can proudly announce “Main Computer Chalatha Hoon” especially in India with its huge digital divide and urban – rural disparities.  This incident made me wonder about “Computer Class” in my daughters school and what they are learning.  I do see them trying to use Microsoft Word and Power Point and at some point LOGO programming language.  Shouldn’t we distinguish between Computer Science Education and “Computer Class” or “Digital Literacy”?  The school has “Computer Teachers”, but have they been trained in “Computer Science”?  I have embarked on a study to see the state of the field in various countries and was amazed to notice the attention Computer Science Education was receiving from Policy Makers, Academicians, Industry Experts but not so much from School Boards and Schools itself. 

Software has touched every field of human endeavor and use of internet has become widespread in the last 25 years.  The field Computer Science and Programming which was once thought of as a useful tool that supports various core subjects of science, mathematics and engineering but has now emerged as core subject on its own.  Yet, Computer Science Education has largely remained the domain of higher education in colleges and universities and has not touched K-12 education.  Recent developments are very encouraging and USA educators are saying “This CS education imperative has dovetailed with the science policy attention to science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) learning in the United States since the turn of the 21st century. With Computational Thinking being viewed as at the core of all STEM disciplines”7

Jeannette Wing, Professor of Computer Science at Carnegie Mellon University, said “It represents a universally applicable attitude and skill set everyone, not just computer scientists, would be eager to learn and use”5.  Steve Jobs in The Lost Interview said “I think everybody in this country should learn how to program a computer because it teaches you how to think.” 

The Royal Society’s report in Jan 2012 said “the role of Computer Science as
 a discipline itself and as an ‘underpinning’ subject across science and engineering is growing rapidly.  It is becoming increasingly clear that studying Computer Science provides a ‘way of thinking’ in the same way that mathematics does, and that there are therefore strong educational arguments for taking a careful look at how and when we introduce young people to the subject and ensure that the next generation of young people in this country can be creators of technology – not just consumers of it.”2.  This report distinguishes between digital literacy, using of computers in schools by teachers and students for course work and emphasizes the need for computer science education.

The attention that CS Education in K-12 is receiving in USA and UK is echoed in Germany as per a recent article in Spiegel Online, which says, “Education experts in Germany are pushing to modernize the country's basic curriculum by making instruction in computer science mandatory.”  There many voices from the academia and the industry which are says that the 3Rs of education (Reading, wRiting and aRithmatic) should now be made 4Rs of education by including algoRithms through Computer Science as a formal part of K-12 education. 

In India, CBSE and ICSE have introduced formal computer science curriculum from IX grade onwards and in XI and XII grades as an elective.  Whereas, in a laudable initiative of the Computer Science Department in IIT, Bombay, has introduced CS curriculum in the local schools in Mumbai and consulted educators to develop a Model Computer Science Curriculum for
Schools in March, 2010 covering elementary schools to high schools and released the same under Creative Commons license. 

While the advantages of introducing CS education in K-12 are compelling, the task itself is daunting when it comes to Training the Subject Teachers, Class Teachers and School Administrators. Parents and Schools in our already overburdened educational system can either choose to wait or take the initiative by using free online resources like Scratch from MIT, Alice Programming from Carnegie Mellon, Java Script, Python and Ruby Programming from Code Academy or online CS courses from eimacs.com, udacity.org , coursera.org and edx.org .  Kids are smart enough to figure out what is appropriate for them from a learning perspective and need just the facilitation from Parents and Teachers or their involvement as co-learners. 

References :

1)    Computational Thinking in K−12: A Review of the State of the Field , Shuchi Grover and Roy Pea 
EDUCATIONAL RESEARCHER 2013 42: 38
.

2)    Shut Down or Restart :  The way forward for computing in UK schools... report on CS education in UK, Jan 2012.

3)    Model Computer Science Curriculum for Schools, Sridhar Iyer, Malathy Baru, Vijayalakshmi Chitta, Farida Khan, and Usha Vishwanathan, 
Department of Computer Science and Engineering, 
Indian Institute of Technology Bombay, March, 2010

4)    Reading, Writing, Algorithms: Should IT Classes Be Required? Hilmar Schmundt , Spiegel Online International, May 16, 2013

5)    Wing, J. (2006). Computational thinking. Communications of the ACM, 49(3), 33–36.

6)    Henderson, P. B., Cortina, T. J., Hazzan, O., and Wing, J. M. (2007) Computational Thinking. In Proceedings of the 38th ACM SIGCSE Technical Symposium on Computer Science Education (SIGCSE ’07), 195–196. New York, NY: ACM Press.

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You are right. The conventional thinking of education by age has no meaning once the computer is introduced. Grades K-12 place artificial barriers in the way of natural learning. A gifted child may comprehend in the 2nd grade a concept usually taught in high school. People learn in different ways and require different lengths of time for mastery. Remove the artificial barriers of gender, race, age, geography, and language and start at the beginning. Each child has individual curriculum and travels at their own comfortable speed to the point where they can understand anything and develop theorems beyond what is conventional wisdom.

Steve Wosniak told a story of how Steve Jobs would ask him to build something and Steve W said it wasn't possible. Steve J. would insist so Steve W. would go get hardware etc. & play with it till he figured it out. This is exactly what kids are doing with computer games.

Thanks for your comments. What we are missing is individualized learning with school curriculum which is now possible, in part, with technology and online learning.  Not only individualized learning but peer learning too.  At this stage online learning can compliment school curriculum but in future the roles may be reversed may be at  high school level.  The role of the teacher may transcend into a facilitator / co-learner in the learner centric model which I have tried to illustrate as MyPal Approach .

Would welcome and appreciate your comments to fine tune our approach

Dear DV, You are right on with facilitator. I feel the future classroom should be each student with their own computer with maybe as many as 60 to a class BUT!!! with 3-5 teachers in the class. Instead of all the students working at the same pace on the same thing, each is competing with their own computer which will let them advance as they demonstrate proficiency and alert teachers when the student needs help. The teachers will be from different disciplines : math, language, history, science, etc. Life is not divided and education should not be. Education should be complex and show real life applications of why the student needs math, language, etc. skills. I am also a big promoter of group projects where slow students couple with fast to get a group AND individual grade on a deliverable.

Love & Peace, Deborah 

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