Computer science from kindergarten to university

Instead of Spanish and geography, the 12-year-old would learn Python, Java or CC + six hours a week. This is what the school of the future could look like if the federal states followed the recommendation of the Permanent Scientific Commission (SWK) of the Conference of Ministers of Education to introduce computer science as a compulsory subject at the first level of secondary education.

Four to six hours a week should be in the curriculum in junior high school, according to the report “Digitization in the education system”, which SWK published on Monday and presented at a press conference. The report was previously available to Tagesspiegel.

The advisory committee’s recommendations for action aim to “successfully establish an education system in a way that is future-proofed for the persistent demands of the digital world.” The Conference of Education Ministers (KMK) set up an expert committee after the grand coalition plan to create a national education council failed due to resistance from some countries. Now, initially until 2027, 16 educational scholars from different disciplines are working on behalf of the Länder on how the German education system can be improved and, in some cases, standardized.

IT priority

The introduction of computer science as a compulsory subject is likely to be preceded by a discussion of the importance of other subjects: where in the curricula will they be trimmed to make room for four to six hours of computer science? This is probably one of the reasons why this subject is currently only compulsory in a few countries. Computer Science has been a regular subject in Saxony since 2017 in grades 7-10, in Mecklenburg-Vorpommern from 2019 in grades 5-10. In Baden-Württemberg and North Rhine-Westphalia, it is compulsory for at least one year (in grade 7) or two years (in grades V and VI).

According to the report, with the new weight, computer science should achieve an equal position in the group of MINT subjects. KMK statistics for the 2020/2021 school year show that so far not enough has been done: only around 4,000 students have studied computer science as a profile subject or an advanced course. Among them, there were only about 600 girls (15%) – a rate lower than in physics in the same year (25%).

As always, there is a shortage of teachers

In view of the ambitious goals of digitization, there is also a lot of catching up in teacher education. “In 2020, only 546 students in Germany started learning computer science,” write scientists in the field of education. Only 117 students graduated in the same year. In order to meet the demand for IT teachers, the commission recommends the introduction of a one-subject IT teacher degree and further qualification programs for career changers and teachers entering the profession. In particular, the side entry of women and immigrants with an IT background should be facilitated to close the gap until more is obtained with early support.

The report also suggests a major educational offensive for greater digital literacy in the training of student teachers in all areas. A survey conducted during the first Corona wave in spring 2020 showed that media competences and digital skills are not compulsory in teacher training courses. On the example of NRW, joint projects could be created. There, under the slogan “Communities of Practice”, representatives of universities offering teaching positions, ministries and municipalities sit down at the table to develop courses and curriculum tools.

Digitally enhanced university teaching

The SWK report states that it is difficult to determine whether interactive media and virtual learning spaces play a role in university teaching due to “teaching freedom”. Science management systems are now standard at almost all universities – ie platforms where lecturers can post texts, links and videos, and assign and rate assignments. According to SWK, there is still great potential for digital expansion of teaching, especially when it comes to the use of video and simulation.

An excellent example of which there should be more is the University of Tübingen. There, medical students at the Institute of Clinical Anatomy and Cell Analysis can follow operations on consented patients live on the platform or watch them later. A study cited in the report on learning successes via the operating platform found that users’ anatomical knowledge was no better than that of a regular lecture. However, video operations have been much better received by students as they are clearer and easier to understand than pure theory.

You can also learn to think algorithmically with the help of “Man, don’t make you mad.”

Olaf Köller, co-chairman of SWK

Virtual augmented reality can make sense in university teaching, especially where masses of students usually do not have access to the practice or specific location, or where it is ethically unacceptable. As another example, SWK gives “emergency scenarios” or “3D reconstructions of historical buildings”.

At the press conference on the publication of the SWK recommendation on Monday morning, Ulrike Cress, director of the Leibniz Institute for Knowledge Media (IWM) and chair of the report’s working group, said it was also necessary in the area of ​​universities to provide targeted ‘teaching incentives’ digital ”because it is very time consuming to prepare. Such an incentive may be the reduction of the teaching load.

More technology in kindergarten

According to the report, even among very young people it is important to better promote the education of “basic computer science”. There is mourning the largely “rejecting attitude towards digital media” among educators. Parents may, however, wonder if the recommendations of the SWK come down to giving every two-year-old in a nursery a tray.

A digital nursery does not necessarily mean playing with a robot like at a children’s research camp. You can also learn to think algorithmically with analog games.
© Ralf Hirschberger / dpa

Well-founded fear? No, explains Olaf Köller, co-chair of SWK and director of the Leibniz Institute for Science and Mathematics Education. It’s not about leaving young children in front of the screen. “There are already very good analog learning opportunities for the fundamentals of computer science in the kindergarten area, we call it unplugged material. You can also learn to think algorithmically with the help of “Human Irritation.”

However, the report raises not only many questions about digital education in early childhood: first and foremost issues of funding, but also the challenges of realizing great visions in a multi-level federal education system. These include the transnational “Digital Education Centers” desired by SWK, free software, tools and teaching concepts for teaching staff to develop. In order to promote the proposed centers, the necessary infrastructure and training improvements, SWK proposes cooperation with EdTech companies. They are essential to be able to cope with an enormous development effort.

Criticism from the federal government for lack of funds

Finally, the Commission also explains that digitization of the education system cannot be achieved in a few years, but will be a rather long process. Of course, it would also depend on the willingness of educators and teachers to engage with new media and involve them in their work.

Experts do not analyze to what extent distance learning during the corona crisis promoted the digitization of schools and universities in the long term. It only says that “the efforts of the Länder – which have been accelerated in recent years by the crown pandemic” – must now be “analyzed and further developed with the help of the report.”

When asked who and how should check it, KMK president Karin Prien (CDU), Minister of Education in Schleswig-Holstein, responded evasively: The Commission focused primarily on educational content related to digitization. With regard to initiatives already under way, Prien referred to the Digital Competence Centers of the Federal Ministry of Education and Research (BMBF). In June of this year, the BMBF announced that by 2025 it would finance the creation of “four digital and digitally assisted learning competence centers”, each with a different specialization. According to Prien, the fact that these initiatives are only funded for three years is not enough.

Ties Rabe (SPD), the Hamburg school senator and the KMK coordinator of the SPD-led countries, expressed concern about how financially could computer equipment be realized for schools and universities. He is increasingly concerned that the federal government apparently no longer plans any generous funding for digitization in the future.

Rabe stressed that it would already be difficult for the federal states to “keep the existing infrastructure to a minimum” and that the goal was to “further develop it”. As an example to calculate acquisition costs, Rabe cited a 2017 study by the Bertelsmann Foundation, which assumed a cost of EUR 330 per student for digital learning. If taken as a guideline, the investment costs for the SWK-recommended offensive could be “at least 3.3 billion” for an estimated ten million students in this field alone.

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