The state of Computer Science education in Spain.
Last April, a report by Google, the Spanish Foundation for Science and Technology (FECYT), and Everis on the state of Computer Science education in Spain was released. The goal of this report is to analyze the current situation of CS education in Spain and set out a series of recommendations to introduce, extend, and improve learning capacities in the short and medium term.
It would be a good idea now to define the sections included in Computer Sciences (CS). Among other activities, CS include programming (developing and implementing instructions so that a computer can execute a task, solve a problem, and allow it to interact with humans), computational thought (solving problems by using breakdown strategies, algorithm design, and abstraction, as well as logical reasoning), and the design and development of digital systems.
At WiMi5, we’re well aware of learning CS and, from the point of view of videogames, we’re aware of how we can help attract young people into learning CS and, indirectly, into studying STEM.
The main hurdle: a lexical mistake.
Spain is a step behind neighboring countries in implementing CS in the educational system, and several steps behind the United Kingdom, a world-level pioneer. This country, in 2013, introduced a new subject called Computing, replacing the old ICT class, in the school system in Key Stage 1 (from ages 7 to 11) and Key Stage 2 (from ages 11 to 14).
The underlying factor that’s causing this distancing with other countries comes mainly from a confusion in terminology. Generally, there is a wide lack of knowledge about what “Computing Sciences” means, be it with digital literacy (the ability to use information technology, focused on handling hardware and software) or with digital competency (the ability to find and evaluate information, create content, share and communicate using information technologies safely, and solving problems related to the use of these digital technologies).
This confusion makes understanding the importance of implementing Computer Sciences in education and the value of learning it from a young age difficult.
According to a survey carried out by Everis among mothers and fathers, 61% confuse the terms, 22% don’t know what “CS” stands for, and 17% do know the concepts, or have an idea. As for students aged 12 to 16, 56% confuse the terms, 20% have no idea, and 24% know or have some idea.
A compendium of factors to keep in mind.
ITC. There is also a confusion in terms between Information and Communication Technologies and CS. Furthermore, in Spain, everything tends to be covered by the umbrella term, informática, or “computing”. However, a positive point should be made that in classrooms, Spanish students have the necessary infrastructure at their disposal to develop activities related to CS thanks to the high penetration of ITC devices and internet access.
Where and how they are studied. Currently, education centers do not give CS classes, with the exception of the schools in certain Autonomous Communities. Therefore, the study of CS falls wholly on the students’ parents, who sign their children up for extracurricular activities. So, it is through these activities, and to a lesser degree self-study, that children come in contact with CS.
Seeing this deficiency, CS associations and promotion programs have seen the light. Initiatives, like CoderDojo, which Raúl Otaolea, the CEO of WiMi5, is a pioneer of, having founded the first CoderDojo in Spain in Bilbao. Currently, its activity is focused on two areas: firstly, the biweekly meeting of the students to give programming workshops having them create videogames, and secondly, participating in a European project within the Erasmus+ program to write up a document for the best practices for the CoderDojos.
Territorial Asymmetry. As for the implementation of CS in education, there is no homogeneity at the national level. An exception to this bleak panorama is the case of Navarre, which, through its Código21 program, is training teachers and giving them teaching resources. What’s more, in the curriculum for the mathematics class, there are elements of CS. In the other Communities, there are small steps that are bringing technology closer to students, but CS haven’t been implemented in the strict sense. For example, in Catalonia, programming mobile apps has been introduced into curriculum for 12-16-year-olds thanks to a public-private collaboration with mSchools, and in Madrid, a class called Technology, Programming, and Robotics has been introduced into the curriculum for 12-16-year-olds. In the rest of the country, except for a few points of light, the perspective is grim.
The teachers. Currently, most teachers do not have the knowledge required to teach CS classes. During their training, teachers have not been given any material that would give them notions of CS. Furthermore, there is a generalized disinterest on the part of the teachers, since they don’t have the implementation of CS in the long term as part of their academic plans, nor do they see any support from the government. Added to this is the lack of time to devote to training in an area whose benefits they’re unsure of, and they tend to prioritize training in other areas.
The role of parents. As we said earlier, the parental figures play a very important role when the time to get kids interested in CS comes. However, they can also become a wall between these children and these disciplines. Unfortunately, in Spain, the latter case is common. The lack of knowledge about CS and its socio-laboral impact causes many parents to not allow their children to get involved in this subject. They have the false belief that their children are already studying this subject, thanks to the abovementioned confusion between CS and ITC. Also, they consider that the keys that will open the doors to the world of work are in the hands of what is commonly called “formal” education.
Gender barrier. As for the perception of the importance of CS, the skills required, and the probability of needing these skills in future jobs, there is little difference between the genders. However, after looking at this survey, it seems girls are less interested in studying CS than boys. The findings starkly show that this difference comes from the influence of parents on their children, especially on their daughters, as some gender stereotypes appear. Experts mention that it’s these existing social stereotypes that guide boys towards the sciences and girls towards the humanities, arts, and health fields.
Advantages of studying CS.
Studying CS, especially at a young age, brings with it a series of advantages that are nothing to sneer at.
Firstly, experts indicate that they promote creativity, help develop critical and logical thinking, and develop problem-solving skills. They also facilitate the conceptual understanding of the technology.
There are other pedagogical examples, such as the possibility of indirectly reinforcing knowledge or concepts learned in other subjects, and achieving the implication of students with low academic performance.
Finally, it’s proven that CS improve employability, since the give access to a greater variety of jobs and opportunities abroad.
Recommendations from the report.
In the end, the report finally collected a series of recommendations to encourage the study of CS.
- Improve the existing knowledge and understanding of CS and set it up to be an absolute requirement to guarantee the success of any initiative related to the encouragement of education in the CS
- Make parents aware of the real benefits learning CS gives to boys and girls, focusing mainly on the skills and abilities that are developed and that, in the future, will give them greater access to the job market, regardless of the profession or sector they want to dedicate themselves to.
- Establish a consensus framework between the various key agents on the route to follow to get CS onto the education curriculum in both elementary and middle schools.
- Promote and support the professional development of current and future teachers in the areas of CS by designing itineraries and specific content for both continuous training and the teachers’ initial training.
- Create spaces and mechanisms of collaboration that allow the professionals dedicated to CS in educating students to participate, and for the teachers to be trained.
- Given the lack of knowledge about CS, its professions, and its practical applications, it is recommended that professional associations, universities, companies, and other ITC industry organizations participate in the promotion and support of studying CS.
- Promote the activities of CS in young students, bringing their practical uses closer, and profiling CS as a creative and collaborative subject.
- Minimize the existing gender gap by increasing girls’ participation in activities related to CS, thereby equalling future job opportunities for boys and girls.
- In the CS integration strategy in formal education, base it all on the experiences of initiatives in informal education with the goal of evaluating the effectiveness of the different approaches and methodologies applied to teaching CS, as well as designing content.
- CS is a basic competency to keep in mind in this digital age we live in. Smartphones, computers, tablets, YouTube, Facebook, etc. all make up part of our childrens’ daily lives. CS will help them to understand and control all this technology, and thereby integrate it better into their daily lives.
- CS can change the world. For centuries, knowledge, new ideas, and transformative thinkers have spread their ideas mainly by the written word. Those who had the ability to write could change the world. Today, writing isn’t enough, you have to dominate digital media. For that, it is essential to have basic training in CS.
- CS don’t have to be hard to study. The creation of videogames in a wonderfully attractive format can draw students to the world of CS. Videogames are of special interest given that their content is widely consumed by people of all ages. Furthermore, there are solutions, like WiMi5, based on visual programming, that make the access to the creation of videogames easy to people who don’t know any programming languages.
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16/05/2016 / Markel Orozko / 0
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