Students from Turkey use mobile devices while attending the finals of the Infomatrix 2015 international computer science and robotics competition in Bucharest, Romania, May 15, 2015. Students from 20 countries compete in the finals of the robotics, hardware control, programming and computer art sections.
Photo Credit: Vadim Ghirda

Computer science not yet available to elementary students in Canada

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Computer science, or coding, is the literacy of the future .And it is very lucrative in the present. Current graduates of university programs are generally being hired into well-paying, interesting jobs.

“I think it’s important that the kids learn about these opportunities earlier”

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British children mapping out concepts of coding in a school yard

Several countries are realizing the importance of increased computer literacy and making the classes more widely available, and even compulsory. Britain has now included it as a core subject from kindergarten on through to secondary school. In Canada, however, it is only available in some high schools, and generally as an elective, leaving the majority of students passing it over. It is still assumed to be the realm of the geeks.

Professor Wendy Powley, of Queen’s University, in Kingston, Ontario, says there has been an increase in the enrollment in the university courses, but she credits this to American media spotlighting the need for workers and the all many positions available. She says she is also seeing an increase in commerce students who realize a combination of business and computer science is a winning one.

Despite these gains, Canada is not actively developing its future workforce, by ignoring the need and the value of computer coding classes to increase computer literacy and comfort. When everyone has a better understanding of the functions, contributions and suggestions can be incorporated to improve the product or end result

“Every single job that our youth are going to have in their future is going to involve computers in some way”

“We’re not trying to say that everybody needs to become a computer scientist, or not everybody needs to know how to code, it’s really that we need to be introducing these concepts really early because a) they’re beneficial across the board, the concepts that you learn here are beneficial to everything that the kids do in their education system, but we have computers everywhere, and every single job that our youth are going to have in their future is going to involve computers in some way, and so they should understand at least a little bit about how the computers work, what they can do, what they’re capable of doing, and how they could perhaps perform their jobs better by using these tools.”

Wendy Powley applauds the British model. “I think it’s important that the kids learn about these opportunities earlier”. The other benefit to introducing the basics of computer coding to children when they’re young, is that it is before the gender specific impressions take hold and it gives girls the opportunity to realize that they may indeed like the subject, and that they’re good at it.

Wendy Powley says the gender imbalance in the major companies is being identified “a lot of the big tech companies like Twitter and Facebook and Google released their stats on how many women were working at their companies and it was appalling.” At a paltry 17 per cent there is huge room for improvement.

“I think we’re going to be lagging behind all of the other nations in this area”

Another of Wendy Powley’s concerns is the elimination of computer science as a teachable subject in faculties of education. At present the subject is only available in one out of three high schools in the province of Ontario. Now in a time of growing austerity, the thinking is that with a perceived lack of interest the need for the subject is no longer there.  Powley says it’s a bit of a chicken and egg syndrome.

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Posted in Economy, Education, International, Science and Technology, Society, Work & Labour

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