Debate about a compulsory subject: A country in a computer emergency

Debate about a compulsory subject: A country in a computer emergency

Whe goes to school in Germany can learn a lot. However, computer skills that would be appropriate to the all-pervading digitization of everyday life or the world of work will not be part of the majority of schoolchildren in 2023 either.

While in Greece, Hungary or Poland, for example, elementary school students already have an independent compulsory subject in computer science in the timetable, this is not the case in Germany in any of the 16 federal states. Between the fifth and tenth grades, students receive compulsory computer science lessons in one federal state: in Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania. In Saxony, computer science is an independent compulsory subject from grades 7 to 10.

In a quarter of the federal states, it is still languishing as a nationwide elective, while another third does not even have an optional computer science offer ready for all schoolchildren. This finding is frightening, and this fright becomes even greater when one considers that the expansion of computer science teaching has been debated for years, but little has happened and even less has improved.

Computer skills as important as mathematics

It’s not as if dealing with social media, software, the Internet, laptops or smartphones doesn’t play any role in German schools these days. As a cross-cutting issue, some subjects, and then particularly committed teachers, take up basic informational knowledge in their lessons and try to pass it on to the students.

But precisely because digitization has already covered large areas of life and algorithms have arrived in everyday life, cross-divisional placement should not stop there – especially if applications based on artificial intelligence continue to spread, keyword: ChatGPT.

In the information age, which has been going on for several decades, computer science knowledge has a similar status as mathematical knowledge. And with good reason, the school system does not leave that as a by-product of subjects such as physics, chemistry or economics, just because the students do arithmetic there from time to time. Whether it is compulsory or not, there is one thing parents and their school-age children should not hope for: that the IT emergency in the country will be alleviated all too quickly.

On the contrary, the misery could even worsen by the end of the current decade. This is due to the inertia of the federal school system in Germany. Saarland, Schleswig-Holstein and Lower Saxony want to introduce computer science as a compulsory subject in their secondary schools from the next school year – but only gradually. Until the time has come for all grades, entire cohorts will continue to leave school without dedicated computer science knowledge.

Basic rule: It is paid with data

Added to this is the shortage of teachers. In the MINT subject group of mathematics, computer science, natural sciences and technology, it is already large compared to other subject groups, but it is particularly striking in computer science. According to a forecast by the Telekom Foundation, North Rhine-Westphalia, for example, will only be able to cover a fraction of the need for IT teachers at secondary schools in the 2030/31 school year. If this scenario actually occurs, 94 of the 100 IT teaching positions advertised in the most populous federal state will remain vacant. According to the study, the shortage could be similarly serious in other federal states.

Anyone who wants to equip their children with computer science knowledge must therefore become active themselves. In the beginning, this includes questioning one’s own behavior in the digital space – and once again reminding oneself of the basic rule of the Internet age: If a service or software is free, the user pays with their data – and is often the product themselves.

Even if this sounds all too familiar: This realization is the first step out of the informational immaturity through no fault of your own – on the part of parents and children. Another would be for the legal guardians to expand their computer science knowledge, for example with the help of introductory literature. Then children and parents could use special software or apps to playfully lay the foundations for algorithms and programming. You could end up with a paid course. All this costs money and time, is tedious, but also makes sense – and maybe it’s even fun.

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