Digital coordinators will help improve Computer Science Teaching
Computer Science belongs to the most important subjects for students’ future. This follows from a survey by the FOCUS agency, according to which computer science has ranked just behind a foreign language, Slovak language and mathematics in the importance of subjects. Nevertheless, the Slovak education system has significant reserves in developing digital skills, which then reduces students' chances of future employment. The Digital Skills platform, which operates within the Business Leaders Forum, aims to improve this and make the way computer science is taught in schools more attractive by creating the role of digital coordinators.
98% of primary school principals and deputy principals consider Computer Science to be an important subject for students’ future. It was shown by the FOCUS survey for the Digital Skills platform conducted at the end of June 2020 on a sample of 500 respondents. Through Computer Science classes, children can acquire digital skills which are currently considered a necessity, and their importance will continue to grow with time.
The problem is the lack of methodological support
In particular, principals consider insufficient methodological support for teachers (58%), poor technical equipment (57%) and a lack of teaching materials (55%) to be the biggest obstacles to improving the teaching of Computer Science.
The lack of qualified Computer Science teachers is also a problem in developing digital skills in many schools. Up to a fifth of respondents stated that not a single Computer Science teacher in their school has the necessary education for this subject or has no IT qualification (20%). This mostly applies to smaller schools in villages, municipalities and towns with up to 5,000 inhabitants.
“The digital age is changing the labour market fundamentally. It is estimated that more than 90% of the professions in the future will require at least a basic level of digital skills. Ordinary digital literacy and the ability to use technology passively will not suffice. The ability to understand and co-create technology will be important when the children grow up,” says Alena Kanabová, Director for Corporate Citizenship of Accenture in Slovakia. She considers it crucial to fill Computer Science classes with relevant content. Therefore, teachers need to have the necessary methodological support, as well as up-to-date materials and appropriate teaching tools.
Digital coordinators will bring new knowledge to schools
The programme of digital competences coordinators aims to improve IT education, as well as to help schools make effective use of digital technologies. The programme is launched by the Digital Skills platform. Its members are companies associated in the Business Leaders Forum, which have long been involved in the support for digital skills. Such are, for example, Accenture, ESET, Orange Slovakia, Slovak Telekom, Microsoft and Deutsche Telekom IT Solutions Slovakia. These companies also supported the survey.
The programme builds on the training of Computer Science teachers in primary schools, in which the employees of the mentioned companies volunteered. They talked about playful teaching of coding, as well as the principles of digital security and safe behaviour in the online world. In 2019, 1,066 teachers from more than 400 schools in 75 districts of Slovakia were trained.
“Our ambition is to have a teacher available in schools, who will have the know-how and support other colleagues in strengthening digital skills and the integration of information technology in teaching. We are, thus, responding not only to the need to support, in particular, unskilled Computer Science teachers, but also to the problem of the low level of digital maturity of schools,” added Alena Kanabová, a representative of the main partner of the programme.
As part of its pilot project, Digital Skills will train coordinators from 10 schools. Their role will be to bring to the school new knowledge in the field of informatics and the use of digital technologies in teaching, to support and inspire their colleagues. The teachers will be mentored by professional consultants from IT companies, who will acquaint them with interesting topics from practice at workshops and webinars, and provide them with support throughout the whole school year. The coordinators will become part of the community to share experience and get recommendations from their colleagues. According to the survey, more than two thirds (67%) of principals and deputy principals see the need for the role of a digital coordinator.
“The cooperation of companies within the Digital Skills platform is unique, not only in terms of its scope but also in terms of innovativeness of its activities. The companies joined forces to improve the low quality of IT education in Slovak schools. We believe that state institutions will get involved in this initiative so that systemic change can be achieved,” said Ivana Vagaská, Executive Director of the Business Leaders Forum.
As part of the pilot phase, the Digital Skills platform plans to fine-tune the prepared educational content and, as of September, test the implementation of the programme on a group of 10 teachers. The programme will be implemented during the year by the organisation JA Slovakia with the support of SK-NIC. After the pilot year, the organisation aims to expand the programme and considers it crucial to establish cooperation with the Ministry of Education, Science and Research of the Slovak Republic.
Improving the use of technology in education and the development of students’ digital skills is also supported by the State Pedagogical Institute. “In the context of ongoing societal and labour market changes, the development of pupils’ digital skills, including security in the use of digital technologies, is one of the fields which needs to be given higher attention in education. I appreciate the effort to provide comprehensive education and methodological support for coordinators of the use of information and communication technologies in schools. Although the pilot programme will be intended for only a small number of participants, I consider its greatest contribution the effort to assess the impact on the participating schools. This will provide important data for its possible dissemination on a larger scale,” said Miroslava Hapalová, Director of the National Institute for Education in Slovak Republic.