“In education not everything can revolve around the issue of computing”

One of the educational topics that accumulates a lot of myths and preconceptions It is the teaching of technology in school. On one side or the other of the crack it is often repeated –without much evidence– that boys must “learn to program from elementary school” or that “a robotics workshop on a contract basis is essential to be a successful professional in the next decade”. And something similar happens when analyzing whether each child should have their netbook or if a “computer classroom” is better.

Two experts who have been working on this subject for years have just published the book Computer Science at School. But the key to this work is in the subtitle: A guide to teach much more than programming. their authors son Fernando SchapachnikPhD in Computer Science, researcher and teacher since 1998. And, since 2021, executive director of the Sadosky Foundation. and his colleague Maria Belen Bonello She has a degree in Political Science and is a secondary and higher education teacher. In 2012 she, along with Fernando, created the Initiative Program.AR of the Sadosky Foundation. In this essay they try to provide answers to a handful of key questions: What does it mean, for this world and the one to come, to teach and learn to use technology? How to incorporate this content into already overcrowded curricula? Is this knowledge really necessary to be a full citizen in the 21st century? How far to doubt, or believe, the “magical” promises of technology?

–In the book they talk about “techno-optimism”. What’s that?

–FS: There are many people in the educational world who, when faced with some innovation related to the use of technology at school, perceive it as the cure for all ills. Thus, the “techno-optimists” think that most of the similar educational problems could be solved by incorporating massive online courses, educational interactive games, programming or robotics courses into schools in all grades and years and things. And all this “would” have a positive effect on schooling. We postulate that it is something important, but it is one more issue. Not everything in education revolves around computing. Although, of course, it is a fundamental issue.

-In what educational cycle should you realize computing?

–FS: It could be approached from preschool. And there are studies that show that with the right tools, very powerful learning was achieved from the initial level. In addition, if you start in early education it is already possible to work with important concepts of self-protection, how to teach about hygiene or the digital footprint. For primary and secondary, complex issues already have to be evaluated.

-For example?

–FS: We cannot forget that school hours are a scarce resource and it is a short sheet, because there is not time to address everything. We believe that computing has to have its space, but it is illusory to think that, in high school, these topics can occupy more than two hours a week. It would be great, but it is important that they have hours of geography, history or mathematics, among others. In summary, it must be appreciated that almost all districts already have a space for “Technological Education” that dates back to the 90s. And we should take advantage of it to teach the appropriate cut in that place: at this moment, without a doubt, the most relevant technology is computing.

–Is there a difference between “technological education” and “teach programming”?

–MBB: Yes, and it’s key: that’s why we titled the book Guide to teach much more than programming. Programming is one of the legs of these sciences. It is very important, but there is other essential knowledge that will be provided at school: knowing how a computer works, its parts, how data moves through the Internet to anywhere in the world, what is artificial intelligence, etc.

Is teaching robotics important?

–MBB: It is a very attractive “bait” and a great tool to attract the attention of boys of all ages, since robots fascinate them. But it is not a different discipline or a subject in itself. It also covers programming, mechanics, artificial intelligence and other topics in the area. But it should not be something autonomous with respect to computing.

What other issues can be addressed?

–FS: Beyond the depth, there are key things that we must understand to be full citizens in the democracy of the 21st century and, incidentally, to be safe. Without going any further, how do cyber scams or bullying happen? Other technological “fundamentals” will also have to be addressed so that all citizens can discuss complex issues: yes or no to electronic voting? What does privacy mean in a database? Is it important that the network is neutral? What does it mean for a car to be autonomous? Do we know that the famous cloud is in the hands of a handful of multinational companies? Is it important in which country a data center with your personal data is located? Those are issues in which you have to train the boys.


What to teach in two hours a week

–Does it make sense today to teach how to use office software in class?

–MBB: A few hours could be spent on that. But they clearly aren’t skills that make much sense. Today teaching how to use a word processor could be done in literature classes. And learning spreadsheets in the abstract is very boring. It would make much more sense to do an applied process, to teach basic accounting, for example. Something similar would happen with tools to build web pages. In reality, it is more important to teach concepts and the logic associated with them, about different tools and programs. The “concepts” will be to teach how data is stored between computers, what is a client-server model, what is a variable or a conditional repetition. These are the significant ideas that must be understood in order to move freely in the digital universe.


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