“Informatics as a Fundamental Discipline for the 21st Century”
Communications of the ACM, April 2019, Vol. 62 No. 4, Page 58
Europe Region Special Section: Big Trends
By Michael E. Caspersen, Judith Gal-Ezer, Andrew McGettrick, Enrico Nardelli
Informatics for all is a coalition whose aim is to establish informatics as a fundamental discipline to be taken by all students in school. Informatics should be seen as important as mathematics, the sciences, and the various languages. It should be recognized by all as a truly foundational discipline that plays a significant role in education for the 21st century.
The European scene. In Europe, education is a matter left to the individual states. However, education, competencies, and preparedness of the workforce are all important matters for the European Union (EU).
Importantly, there is a recognition that the education systems of Europe do not collectively prepare students sufficiently well for the challenges of the digital economy. These systems need to be fundamentally transformed and modernized. In January 2018, a Digital Education Action Plan, which set out a number of priorities, was published by the EU. The most relevant priority for our initiative is “Developing relevant digital competences and skills for the digital transformation,” and the Plan suggests one way to implement this is to “Bring coding classes to all schools in Europe.” This is important, but more is needed, as we will explain in this article.
ACM Europe and Informatics Europe. ACM Europe (europe.acm.org) was established in 2008, and Informatics Europe (www.informatics-europe.org) in 2006. From the early days, the two organizations have collaborated on educational matters; through this liaison, they are seen to project to the wider community a single message about aspects of informatics education. In 2013, the two groups set up and funded a Committee on European Computing Education (CECE) to undertake a study that would capture the state of informatics education across the administrative units of Europe (generally, these units are the countries, but within Germany, for instance, there are 14 different administrative units with autonomy regarding education).
The CECE study paralleled the highly influential U.S. study Running on Empty that had drawn attention to the state of computer science education in the U.S. The CECE study gathered data from 55 administrative units (countries, nations, and regions) of Europe (plus Israel) with autonomous educational systems through the use of questionnaires and a wide network of reliable contacts and official sources.
The report on that work was published in 2017. The three themes of informatics, digital literacy, and teacher training provided the framework for the study. Informatics was defined as knowledge and competencies about computational structures, processes, artifacts, and systems. Digital literacy was seen as basic user skills, such as conversancy with standard tools like word processors, Web browsers, spreadsheets, and so on.
While the report confirmed that, across Europe, there was a growing realization of the importance of sound school education in informatics, it also showed a largely variable level of effort and achievement across administrative units. For instance, the report found that informatics was available to all pupils in only 22 out of 50 units, while in a further 10 units it was available to just some students, and in several noticeable cases, no informatics teaching was available at all. When students could elect to take an informatics course, there was evidence of poor uptake, often as low as 10%.
The authors of the CECE report included a number of recommendations that would serve to improve the situation. Those recommendations addressed each of the three areas (informatics, digital literacy, and teacher training), and these form the basis of the Informatics for All initiative.
About the authors:
Michael E. Caspersen is managing director of It-vest – networking universities, and honorary professor at Aarhus University, Aarhus, Denmark.
Judith Gal-Ezer is professor emerita of The Open University of Israel, Ra’anana, Israel and vice chair of ACM Europe.
Andrew McGettrick is professor emeritus of Strathclyde University, Glasgow, Scotland.
Enrico Nardelli is a professor of informatics at Tor Vergata University of Rome, Italy, and president of Informatics Europe.
Sidebar: The U.S. Initiative CS for All
The CS for All initiative, launched by President Barack Obama on January 30, 2016, was highly imaginative and a catalyst for a burst of initiatives in computer science (CS) education in the U.S. It fired the imagination and provided a focus for great activity centered on the promotion of CS at all stages of education. The financial commitments were impressive, even eye-watering!
The initiative could be seen as the culmination of earlier work on CS education supported by the National Science Foundation (NSF), the CS Principles course launched by the College Board, the extensive work of the Computer Science Teachers Association (CSTA), and efforts by ACM, by code.org, and by many others. Within ACM, the efforts included work on policy matters by the Education Policy Committee, harnessing the invaluable support of major industrial players through Computing in the Core (which has now merged with the code.org Advocacy Coalition), lobbying on Capitol Hill, as well as actions from groups with members in the ACM Education Council.
Informatics Europe: Informatics Europe represents the academic and research community in Informatics in Europe. Bringing together university departments and research laboratories, it creates a strong common voice to safeguard and shape quality research and education in Informatics in Europe. With around 140 member institutions across 31 countries, Informatics Europe promotes common positions and acts on common priorities. Here is a snapshot overview of what we do and what we stand for.
Informatics Europe – Informatics for All: The Informatics for All initiative was created to advocate for the inclusion of Informatics as a foundational discipline in schools across Europe. Its purpose is to give due recognition to Informatics as an essential foundational discipline for education in the twenty-first century.
Informatics Europe – Informatics Education: Fostering high quality education in Informatics is one of the pillars of Informatics Europe.