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In an increasingly connected, technology-driven world education is being transformed - the way in which we learn, and what we learn, is changing.
In 2016 the European Commission’s science and knowledge service published an updated Digital Competence Framework for citizens. Also known as DigComp, the framework describes what digital competence is in five areas: information and data literacy, communication and collaboration, digital content creation, safety, and problem solving. The new Digital Economy and Society Index (DESI) uses the DigComp framework to construct a digital skills indicator and across Europe a variety of jurisdictions are implementing the framework in different ways in schools and colleges, both directly with pupils and in up-skilling their teacher workforce.
Innovations in STEM education aimed at meeting the digital needs of our learners are varied and extend beyond what is recorded on the EC website. A meeting in Utrecht in November offered the opportunity for members of CIDREE (Consortium of Institutions for Development and Research in Education in Europe) to share some of their approaches and issues with digital literacy, computing and mathematics.
Some common themes emerged, including:
• The need for clarity on definitions and terminology – computing, informatics, computational thinking, modelling, simulation, problem solving, digital literacy, etc.
• Should modelling be a separate subject or taught within existing subjects?
• Related to the above, can modelling be taught independent of context and/or subject knowledge?
• The integration of mathematics and computing
• Assessment of the topics above
• Existing education research on the topics above, in particular on progressions, pedagogy and assessment
• How are content and processes communicated in national frameworks?
• What repositories for good practice exist or need to be developed?
Integrating computing with… or not?
A common belief in the importance of including some form of computing in education is clear. CIDREE members differ in their approach to this – some (e.g. Slovenia) teach computing as a completely separate subject, either compulsory or optional or even both; others integrate the content to varying degrees in two (France) or more (Sweden) subjects. In cases where computing is taught as a separate subject maths curricula often exemplify the use of technology but don’t have specific mathematical ICT goals.
France is currently undergoing significant changes in the K1 – K9 (primary through to KS3) curriculum. Competencies for mathematics for this time at school have been identified as: searching, modelling, representing, reasoning, calculating and communicating. A new subject, Computer Science (Informatique) will be taught across mathematics and technology. Algorithms and programming will be developed in maths lessons and programming with objects considered in technology. Through multiple routes a variety of professional development is on offer and a hope exists that this structure will encourage teachers to talk and work collaboratively.
Similarly, in Sweden, informatics has been embedded across all 16 taught subjects. Simulations and modelling are developed in science lessons, step-by-step instructions and visual environments in maths. In both these cases it’s difficult to comprehend fully whether the technology is ‘embedded’ or integrated in the maths or is an additional part of maths lessons. In the UK, an initiative we have followed with interest is CAS (Computing at Schools), a grassroots organisation promoting excellence in the computer science curriculum – you can read more about their work here.
It is clear digital literacy is becoming an economic and social priority across the world – how can we design curricula to respond to these needs without them becoming obsolete almost as soon as they are implemented?