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Millions invested in computational thinking in schools

Students in Swedish elementary schools receive no education in computational thinking. Fredrik Heintz, reader at the Department of Computer and Information Science, has received just over SEK 1,000,000 from the state-owned Vinnova corporation to start changing this situation.

Fredrik HeintzOur society is becoming increasingly digitalised, yet the basics of programming and how computers and the internet work is not taught in school.

“Students need to gain an understanding of the digital world in the same way as they learn about physics or chemistry,” says Mr Heintz, who apart from his own research is very interested in education issues from elementary school on up.

“With more knowledge about how computers work, more people could have control over them and use them as powerful tools,” he argues.

“And our homes are vulnerable. If we don’t have an understanding of both the risks and the opportunities we are more at risk. Recent Dagens Nyheter articles have been instrumental in demonstrating the lack of computer security.”

The lack of knowledge also has repercussions for our democracy, Mr Heintz points out. The few who possess knowledge have the power to control development.

“Everyone who lacks basic knowledge will have more difficulty, for example, in understanding laws concerning things such as privacy issues around increasing surveillance in society.”

A concrete example is the surveillance carried out by Sweden's National Defence Radio Establishment.

“They should only be listening to communications that cross the country’s borders, but if I send an email to someone in Sweden it may very well go via a foreign server, and thereby be seen as cross-border communication.”

Some upper secondary schools do have programming courses, but these are of varying quality, according to Mr Heintz.

“That means that we need to start from scratch with programming and other things for students who are starting with computer science today. We want to raise the bar for upper secondary students.”

In Finland programming will be introduced into schools in 2016 and in Britain computer science lessons begin from Grade 1.

With the million kronor from Vinnova, Mr Heintz is going to create concrete activities for learning computational thinking in Swedish elementary schools and will also conduct a review of the research in the field. He will be doing this together with Linda Mannil, guest senior lecturer at IDA, the Department of Computer and Information Science.

“As there is no specific subject that deals with computational thinking, we will be developing activities within the framework of the current syllabus in subjects such as Swedish, the natural sciences and social sciences. We will be working with Linköping Municipality, where we are now looking for interested teachers.”

For several years he has also been involved in a number of programming activities for children in school. This partly takes place via the “Databävern” (Computer Beavers) computer competition, which is aimed at students from Grade 2 up through and including upper secondary. This began in Lithuania ten years ago; the aim is, in a playful way, to get the students familiar with programming, logical thinking and problem solving. The competition is international with participants from Japan, South Korea, Canada and Europe; last year nearly 800,000 students took part. It is held in the second week in November.

“This year 101 Swedish schools have entered, and the aim is for five thousand students to participate.”

The final will be held at Linköping University on 6-7 December.

“For that we will invite the five best students in each category. There will be a final competition and a programme for accompanying families.”

Eva Bergstedt 2014-11-04

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Last updated: 2017-02-13