CodeAcross & OpenDataDay Hrvatska 2016 starts on March 4, 2016. A guest article from Mark Armstong, Head of the Political Team in the British Embassy Zagreb, looking at the subject of IT in schools.
I became interested in IT teaching when my then 8 year old daughter came home one evening and talked to me about how she had participated in the annual Hour of Code project at school that day and then showed me a piece of code she had written. I have always liked IT and remain a keen gamer. I have vague memories of writing very basic programmes on a ZX81 back when I was at school, but there was not much more available then if you were interested in doing more. But after my daughter showed me the code she had written I started to think more and more about what I could do to help her, not just because I like the idea of her growing up to write games or apps, but because the teaching of coding and programming gives children the skills to think logically across the board in many different ways.
I looked into what my daughter and son might expect in terms of IT education when we move from Croatia back to the UK. I was pleased to discover that from September 2014 a new Computing curriculum was introduced in the UK. The idea of getting more kids to code had been pushed by the UK technology industry for some time to help fill the skills gap between the number of technology jobs now, in the future and the people qualified to fill them. The UK also wanted to move away from a old fashioned approach that focussed on computer literacy – word processing, spreadsheets etc – and move instead to computer science, IT and digital literacy – not just how to work a computer but how a computer works. This also helps develop other skills, including literacy and numeracy. In the UK, this new curriculum is now taught between the ages of 5 – 14 years over three key stages. This is a revolutionary approach to what went before, particularly the decision to start from such an early age. The Chartered Institute for IT, the Royal Academy of Engineering and companies such as Microsoft and Google all helped shape this new approach. While it is still too early to measure the full impact of the changes, early results look very positive.
The more I read and absorbed on the UK approach, the more I became involved with talking to other here about the Croatian education system. I gradually realised that there is a lot happening here, particularly with coding clubs and through the voluntary teaching of coding. The same thing happened in the UK before the new approach to IT was agreed. The other similarity I spotted was that parts of the Croatian technology industry were also pushing for change and an ambitious approach to how IT is taught. In November 2015, a group of leading Croatian IT influencers wrote to the then Prime Minister to suggest:
· Reform of the curriculum to ensure that IT education is adequately represented, in particular, logical thinking and problem solving should start as early as elementary school;
· Starting the reform now. Most schools already have computers and quality teachers and professors. The existing programme of additional workshops for programming and coding should be increased to encourage logical thinking among younger students in elementary school until such a point as this teaching becomes mandatory;
· Using the positive experiences of Croatian associations, non-formal programs, clubs and volunteers and to link this to the education system;
· More support for teachers and schools on organisational, logistical and advisory issues via the Ministry of Education.
The authors of the letter also noted that while Croatia’s IT sector continues to positively grow, despite the domestic start-up scene being successfull on global scale and the fact that Croatian children regularly participate and perform well in worldwide IT competitions, there was still a big gap in the domestic labor market of candidates with IT skills. Perhaps more importantly, knowledge of digital in other professions could be much better and therefore on the broad level, Croatian companies were not as competitive as they could be.
I thought that it might therefore be useful, while the new education curriculum is open for public discussion, to have an expert on the UK approach visit Croatia to talk about how we sought to address the IT skills gap we also face. While there is no guarantee that the approach we have agreed in the UK would work in Croatia, it also makes sense to not reinvent the wheel where possible. So if we can pass on best practice, answer questions or help in any way, we will. So on Friday 4 March, Eben Groenewald, the Policy lead for coding within the UK Department of Education, will speak at an event hosted by Open Code for Croatia on the UK approach to the teaching of coding. He will be joined by other speakers from the Croatian IT sector, education sector and hopefully, the Ministry of Education.
If you are interested in attending and contributing to the debate on the future of the teaching of IT here in Croatia, you can register through via the official website.