International Comparison of Computing in Schools

Juliet Sizmur, Linda Sturman, Juliet Sizmur, Linda Sturman

13 January 2012

Computing in Schools (Royal Society web page) | News release

This NFER survey forms part of a Royal Society project looking at how Computing is taught in schools. The overall project was supported by 24 organisations from across the computing community including learned societies, professional bodies, universities, and industry. School teachers, academics and other members of the computing community came together through the study to address growing concerns that the design and delivery of the ICT and computing curricula in schools is putting young people off studying the subject further.

The NFER survey focused on ICT and Computing as a school subject in the 5-19 curriculum in a small number of countries or regions outside the UK: Finland, Japan, USA (Massachusetts), Canada (Ontario), and Singapore. These were not intended to be exhaustive, but were chosen to exemplify the range of curriculum experience available to students internationally, and for their potential relevance and/or interest to policy makers.

Key findings from this survey highlight variability in ICT and Computing education internationally, as well as some areas of common ground. They are potentially useful in informing discussions about how to motivate students to pursue their ICT and Computing education. They may also be useful in considering what works or might usefully be developed in the curricula in the UK. Some key findings are presented below. Others are included in the report, along with more information about the survey.

Key Findings

  • In some educational systems, the subject areas of ICT and Computing are not represented in the curriculum. In some they are optional and in others mandatory.
  • The use of ICT is included in the curriculum more commonly than the technical aspects of Computing, such as programming.
  • The age at which the teaching of ICT is expected by the curriculum varies, from introduction at or before age 6 in Ontario and Massachusetts to first introduction at the age of 12 in Singapore and 14 in Italy. There is evidence, however, that many students use ICT earlier than the curriculum implies.
  • The introduction of more technical Computing skills occurs later, typically from the ages of 12-14 upwards.
  • In terms of basic technical Computing skills, students are generally expected to know common terminology, to understand concepts such as 'hardware' and 'software' and to be able to name parts of a computer system, among other elements.
  • Programming is covered in most Computing curricula investigated. In some, specific languages are identified, while in others, there is flexibility (e.g. Ontario simply specifies that programming languages should be 'industry standard').
  • Only the older students are exposed to the technicalities of networking and systems management, and then not in all countries/regions.
  • Curriculum design varies. Most courses are linear, while Ontario offers a menu of Computing courses at the higher levels, from which students can select courses tailored to their different interests and aspirations.