Technology has changed a lot in recent decades. It used to be easy to find out how things worked: you just took them apart and figured out what did what. Building a simple radio was a fun weekend project, and even playing a computer game often demanded that you type in the source code from a book or magazine. The moving parts of everyday technology were inherently more exposed than they are today. In an age of intricately designed smartphones, tablets and laptops, computers are certainly easier to use (no bad thing in itself), but when you send a message on WhatsApp or ask Siri what the weather will be like tomorrow, do you really know what’s going on behind the screen?
In too many countries around the world, there is a shortage of people with STEM skills (science, technology, engineering and maths). According to statistics from the EU, just 28% of people in Europe have “above basic” digital skills. Almost half of employers in a UK survey thought that their workforces lack the digital skills to meet future challenges. Study after study shows that people don’t have sufficient digital skills. There’s a real danger that computers become magic boxes that we don’t understand.
Computing education is not just about getting your head around binary, or memorising what might seem to be an arcane and abstract algorithm. Learning about computing and understanding computational thinking opens up a world of creative possibilities. Developing computing skills invites a curiosity into how the technology that shapes our world works. Understanding how a computer stores and processes data, or how a program can respond to input, gives you the chance to create new things or solve existing problems.
The answer to the shortage of people with STEM skills is simple: education.
“Confidence and creativity in using digital technologies are essential for everyone in Europe to participate fully in our digital society. Moreover, basic coding skills will most likely become indispensable to the future jobs”—Andrus Ansip, European Commission Vice-President for the Digital Single Market
Equipping students with the right skills prepares them for further study and specialisation, or for more effective work in other areas. Computing skills aren’t only for future engineers or programmers. The problem solving and creativity inherent in computational thinking can be applied to many other areas. Indeed, the OECD identified problem solving as a key skill for future jobs.
But it can often be difficult to know where to start with teaching computing and computational thinking. There are so many potential starting points. Do you simply teach a programming language? Which one? How do you cover the fundamentals of how a computer ‘thinks’? Do you keep it abstract and just teach the ideas behind algorithms, loops and functions? Once you have found an approach, how do you make sure that students are really learning and taking in the course?
ECDL Foundation’s new Computing module has been developed with the input of experts from around the world, and can certify the computing skills of students to the same high standard as other ICDL modules. The module covers core computational thinking techniques like problem decomposition, pattern recognition, abstraction and algorithms as well as practical skills relating to coding. It is specifically designed for students from age 12 to 16, and contributes to the wider ICDL Education offer, including modules on Web Editing, Online Collaboration and IT Security.
You can find out more about the new ICDL Computing module at ecdl.org.