What does leadership in Computer Science look like elsewhere in the world and which country can be seen as leading the way?

From a Next Gen Skills perspective, we urge you to look at Israel.

Research undertaken by the Computer Science Teachers Association of America, The New Educational Imperative: Improving High School Computer Science Education, in February 2005 shows that many countries have been on a journey not dissimilar to our shift from a curriculum based on computer programming in schools in the 1970s and early 1980s to an ICT / ‘informatics’ dominated curriculum from the mid 1990s – to mid-2000s.

An international outline of the IT debate in schools was sketched by the Guardian as part of their Digital Literacy campaign earlier this year, based on research by Computing at School for the Royal Society.  This highlights work done by a number of different countries, including Singapore and (closest to home) in Scotland (from 2010).

 

But the clearest example of leadership – by this we mean a strategy based upon the alignment of interests and common objectives set by government, industry and educators – can be found in Israel.

 

The evolution of the Israeli curriculum was first comprehensively set out in a seminal article 1995 by Prof. Judith Gal-Ezer, with a subsequent ‘Model’ for High School education based on their experience evolving the Israeli curriculum from ICT into Computer Science two decades ago.  Although first published over 17 years ago, Prof. Gal-Ezer’s work on advancing Computer Science in schools used to teaching ICT bears striking similarities to the position we face here in the UK, namely the perceived ‘low status’ of the subject  in sachools; the lack of training and low qualifications of teachers and the lack of ‘fundamental principles’ in the existing curriculum.

In contrast to the proposed ‘decentralised’ / ‘wiki’ curriculum in England, which proposes that government take a back-seat, the Israeli curriculum was developed by a committee nominated by the Minister of Education, including four university professors of Computer Science, teachers, and the official Ministry of Education supervisor of Computer Science education.  According to Prof. Gal-Ezer, each of professors contributed his or her own ideology to how a curriculum should look – yielding the principles presented in the 1995 paper.  Along which the curriculum and material were developed (see also What (else) should CS educators know? (1998); Curriculum and Course Syllabi for High-School Computer Science Program (1999); Teaching Software Designing Skills (2000)).

An important component embedding learning in schools and with teachers is Machshava Israeli National Computer Science Teaching Centre.  Founded in 2000 by the Israeli Ministry of Education, Machshava is considered as the professional home for all Israeli computer science teachers.   Prof. Gal-Ezer stressed the importance of teacher support to Next Gen Skills:  “We supported the teacher at the beginning. Now we have in Israel the Computer Science teacher’s Centre [Machshava, below]…[which] fosters the professional leadership of computer science teachers by providing an opportunity for leading teachers to serve as a model for other teachers, promote pedagogical objectives, and inspire their colleagues.”

 

The centre activities are organized around five major themes:

1. Helping create a professional community of computer science teachers;

2. Fostering the professional leadership of computer science teachers;

3. Supporting, assisting and consulting academic computer science education groups, and computer science teacher educators and researchers;

4. Collecting and distributing computer science education knowledge and experience;5

5. Researching and evaluating computer science teachers’ needs and the centre’s activities.

 

Examples of “Machshava” activities include:

- An annual teacher conference with plenary lectures, parallel sessions, discussions, posters, and an exhibition of CSE materials;

- Courses and meetings on specific issues from the high school CS curriculum, such as recursion or software design;

- Publication of annotated papers on different topics, such as novice difficulties, learning and teaching recursion;

- Publication of learning materials suited for the Israeli curriculum, such as questions and laboratories;

- Publication of a journal for teachers, called “Hebetim” (meaning “Aspects in CSE”) twice a year.

 

To experts, ongoing evaluation of these events has shown that they have played a critical role in the establishment of a powerful community of computer science leading teachers.

Previously Next Gen Skills has called for Government to set out a Vision for Computer Science which shows how government, industry and educators can work together.

The model from Israel shows one route to success – can we build such support here in the UK?