Today, 9th December, is Grace Hopper's birthday and Computer Science Education Week is timed to co-incide with it. Whether the publication of the PISA 2009 report by the U.S. Department of Education was in turn deliberately timed to occur in National Computer Education Week is unclear but there is a relevant message.
PISA stands for Program for International Student Assessment and is a three-yearly comparison of the performance of 15-year old students in reading mathematics and science literacy co-ordinated by the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) and first conducted in 2000. Over sixty countries, both OECD members and non-OECD members participated as partners in PISA 2009.
As far as math, a subject with close affinity to computer education, is concerned the key findings are:
- U.S. 15-year-olds had an average score of 487 on the mathematics literacy scale, which was lower than the OECD average score of 496. Among the 33 other OECD countries, 17 countries had higher average scores than the United States, 5 had lower average scores, and 11 had average scores not measurably different from the U.S. average.
- Among the 64 other OECD countries, non-OECD countries, and other education systems, 23 had higher average scores than the United States, 29 had lower average scores, and 12 had average scores not measurably different from the U.S. average score.
The OECD countries with the highest scores for mathematics literacy were Korea (546) Finland (541) and Switzerland (534) but it was non-OECD countries that came out top - Shanghai-China (600), Singapore (562) and Honk Kong-China (555). The U.K. was also below the average although with a score if 487 it outperformed the U.S. by 5 points.
What is the remedy?
Computer science education is surely part of it. Which brings us back to Computer Science Education Week a U.S wide program of events that:
seeks to raise public awareness of the critical role computer science education has in preparing students for 21st Century careers and the transformative role computing plays in today's society.
As argued recently in Math, computers and the quality of thought, programming and computers also provides an easy an accessible route into mathematics. So let's start by introducing young kids to programming through languages such as Scratch, see Scratch not to be sniffed at!
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