A delegation from South Korea came to visit BCS recently as part of a fact-finding mission to Europe to find out more about how we teach computer science in schools. They wanted to learn more about the National Centre for Computing Education (NCCE).

BCS, along with Raspberry Pi and STEM Learning, make up the consortium that runs the NCCE, a government-funded scheme to up-skill thousands of computer science teachers in England. 

The challenges faced by both countries, it turns out, are similar, with many teachers, who were skilled in ICT, struggling when it comes to the finer points of computer science. BCS's Adam Thilthorpe, Head of External Affairs gave the delegation a presentation and they also spent a day with our partners at STEM Learning.

The delegation included two government-backed agencies and reporters from the English language news site koreajoongangdaily.com. Claire Penketh asked Su-jin Jung, a Director from the National IT Industry Promotion Agency (NIPA), what they had learned from their whistle-stop tour.

We were impressed with BCS. Not only because it supports the expanding computing education community, but because its mission statement is to make it good for society. It strives to do that by encouraging the participation of educators, industry and academics.

We were also interested in the many activities of BCS including:

  • acting as a facilitator and supporting policy by working closely with industry
  • running a mentoring programme for teachers (CAS)
  • supporting digital apprenticeships
  • it's a membership organisation
  • providing research to support the expansion of AI experts
  • reporting on the issues of social mobility and diversity.

If the opportunity permits, we hope to collaborate with BCS and would expect considerable synergy.

What did you learn from your trip to Europe?  

We chose to go to England and Estonia because they both have good examples of computer science education. In Korea, England is known for having one of the world’s best education systems. The following are some of the things that we took particular note of in England: 

  • the computer curriculum recently evolved from an ICT-based one
  • teachers carried out various educational programs outside of the curriculum unlike Korea
  • bursaries and CPD sessions are provided to address the lack of computing teachers.

In Estonia, we saw how a country with such a small population: 

  • incorporates a diverse range of ICT technology to support an efficient and effective lifestyle
  • how efforts are being made to strengthen the accessibility of information through large databases
  • the focus is on students’ computing education.   

What do you think might work in your school system?

Korea is also at the stage of taking an interest in providing policy support to help its computing education in schools. From 2018 it became mandatory for elementary school students (Key Stage 1~2) and middle school students (Key Stage 3~4) to receive such an education.

But given that the classes are now compulsory, one of our concerns is also the lack of computer science teachers and appropriate resources. 

To address these needs, we hope that our institutions and the Software Future Centers throughout the country can nurture professional teachers, provide tools and visit inaccessible rural regions to offer teaching support.  

How different were the counties in their approach to the teaching of this subject?

We were impressed by how in England computing is divided into the categories of ‘computer science,’ ‘information technology’ and ‘digital literacy,’ and how teachers and schools pursue diverse methods to nurture students into becoming ‘computational thinkers.’

In Korea, we too use logic-based tools like Scratch to encourage computational thinking and we have created relevant textbooks. Although it hasn’t been long since we made software education compulsory, we expect this will help increase the quality of education.

In the case of Estonia, we were impressed with how they continue to strengthen diversity and autonomy while challenging themselves to incorporate new curriculums and tools. China is also interesting in that they are pushing for a far-reaching presence of artificial intelligence in education.  

How did you enjoy the STEM learning session - and what did you learn that will be useful to you?

At STEM Learning we found out about England’s computing education and learned in detail about efforts to raise the quality of education in this field. In particular, we gained a lot of insight into the systematization of diverse programs like STEM WEEK, industry-partnered programs and training programs for teachers. I think our biggest takeaway is how NIPA, which pursues many similar programs, could collaborate on many of these efforts.  

What do you think about the approaches taken by National Centre for Computing Education?

We learned a lot about the NCCE’s various efforts to raise the quality of computer science education, and we were interested in how England plans to expand computing hubs throughout the country. Also, in Korea, we plan to expand our software professional teachers, teaching tools and visiting teacher programs across all regions where education is inaccessible by 2021. I believe that we could both learn from each other and grow together.  

How important is computer science to your economy?

As it is probably well known in Europe, Samsung Electronics, LG Electronics, and Hyundai Motor are ICT-based companies that serve as the core of Korea’s economy. In this era where technologies are changing fast, it is very important to quickly incorporate new ICT and software technologies, and we expect software education to make great contributions in this regard.  

Do you have an IT skills gap similar to the one in Europe?

Like Europe, there is a gap between ICT use between younger and older demographics in Korea, especially as new technologies continue to be introduced. The government is using various efforts to relieve this issue. Furthermore, there is a relative lack of women in the ICT workforce and we are addressing this through various policies. We feel that it will be helpful to resolve this together with European countries.