Coding to be taught in B.C. schools

B.C. government set to add computer coding to the provincial curriculum by the end of 2016

DSC_2137At the inaugural BC Tech Summit on Jan. 18, Premier Christy Clark announced a plan to address the shortage of skilled workers in B.C.’s technology sector by adding coding to the province’s curriculum.

Promising to fully implement computer coding into the B.C. curriculum over the next three years, Clark could not speak as to how the changes would be implemented exactly, though other government officials have said that teachers will be given opportunities before then to learn about coding.

The new curriculum partly features new standards in mathematics and science as well as a new and redesigned “applied design, skills and technologies” (ADST) component. By the end of high school, the B.C. government is hoping that most students will be able to code, debug algorithms and use various coding techniques, including visual programming.

As far as TRU is concerned, department of computing science chair Faheem Ahmed believes the government’s initiative is great for the university as well as the province.

“I think it is great initiative and it will help the students to understand the programming or to at least have some knowledge of what programming is,” Ahmed said. “They will be able to understand and able to write small programs, which is quite necessary for all disciplines now because there is such a wide use of computers everywhere.”

Despite the implementation of this initiative, Ahmed thinks that the changes to B.C.’s curriculum will have little effect on how the university’s computing science program operates. Instead, changes to the program will likely happen at the administrative level, as TRU makes moves to support a larger volume of computing science students into a program which has already seen growing numbers in enrolment in recent years.

“I think the difference will be potentially more students coming into this field,” said Kevin O’Neil, senior lecturer in the department of computing science. “Another benefit, I think, is that students will be aware of coding when they come to university. Even if they go into a different discipline, I think more of them will take coding at university as they understand how it is an important tool for the future.”

However, this move by the B.C. government is not without concern. O’Neil wonders if teachers across the province will receive the training they need in time to start implementing the curriculum changes.

“They will need time to be trained and most of them just don’t have the background to be able to,” O’Neil said. “Right now computer science is not a teachable subject in B.C. What I mean by that is I could teach math or history or physics, but computer science is not classed as a teachable subject in B.C.”

O’Neil expects the ability for students with degrees in computing science to obtain teaching certificates to be one of the first changes implemented. He also believes that this may be the time for the B.C. government to add a ministry specifically responsible for supporting the province’s technology sector.

Whatever changes come out of this initiative, Ahmed is sure that TRU and its computing science faculty will be prepared.

“The university has been quite supportive of us and we’ve been getting new faculty over the years, as well as new resources,” he said. “Yet careful planning is key as well, because computing science will likely be many students’ destination for TRU.”