Author Archives: Annick.VanDaele

Informatics in Flemish schools (Belgium)

(1) What is your name? What do you do? Where are you from?
My name is Annick Van Daele. I am a member of the Flemish “Forum voor Informaticawetenschappen” (http://i22n.org) aiming to support and develop computer science teaching in Flemish primary and secondary schools and starting up 2LinK2, the Flemish informatics teacher association (not yet online).
I teach informaticawetenschappen (computer science) in a secondary school in Ghent. My pupils are between 16 and 18 years old (level: General Education, grades 11-12)
Part of my job is at the University of Ghent. I give seminars in programming (Java and Python) and am in teachter training: our students are mostly masters in computer science and/or engineering.
(2) Is there an informatics teaching at K-12 level in Flanders? If so, at which level and is it mandatory or optional? How many students take these courses? What does the curriculum look like? Who teaches it? Do you have informatics teachers in Flanders or is it taught by teachers of other disciplines?

Although officially there is no informatics curriculum, some informatics is taught in schools however:

  • to many pupils in a course called “Informatica” in grades 9 and 10 (which includes 10 to 15 hours of “algorithmic thinking and programming” and about an equal amount of stuff on computer systems and networks).
  • to some pupils in specialized programs in “technical” schools (grades 11 and 12) on application and software development in a business setting on the one hand, and system administration on the other. These pupils get up to 5 to 10 hours of class a week which can be more or less classified as informatics (though the focus, certainly in the latter program is more on “information systems” than on “computer science”). In these study profiles, informatics is a mandatory, and even a main, subject.
  • to some, but very few, pupils in “general” education: they get informatics in grades 11 and 12; schools have the freedom to teach the subject for up to 2 hours a week, but there are no official requirements or curricula, so whether something is offered, and if so, of what quality, depends on individual teachers and teacher teams.
    Recently, since last year, some secondary schools are introducing programming classes and courses at the age of 12 (grade 7). Even some primary school are doing similar things.

We have informatics teachers at the bachelor level: they can teach in grades 7 to 10. Informatics is for them one of 2 subjects they choose in their teacher training.
Informatics teachers in grades 10 to 12 mostly have a master degree (occasionally in computer science, but most of the time in math, economics or still something else).

(3) Is there any computer literacy teaching at K-12 level in Flanders? If so, at which level and is it mandatory or optional? How many students take this courses? What does the curriculum look like?

The Flemish government has issued, in 2007, “ICT educational standards”, which should be achieved at the age of 14 (at the end of grade 8). Schools and school networks build on that in many different ways, both integrated across topics and in specialized courses or course parts. Also part of the Informatica course in grades 9 and 10 currently focusses on enhancing digital literacy, e.g. through classes on Office use.

(4) Is there an informatics teacher society in Flanders?
The association has just been founded. I am co-founder. In a few weeks, our website will be online.

(5) How has the situation evolved in recent years?

Since more than 20 years, we have a course called ‘informatica’ in grades 9 and 10, which was not officially compulsory, but highly recommended in most study profiles. Originally, it focused on programming, but over the years, it has shifted to digital literacy. Nowadays, about half of the content is on digital literacy, while the other half could be characterized as IT and CS. Due to the uncertain “recommended” status of this course, there is little if any quality control, resulting in a rather cursory treatment of the IT and CS parts by many teachers without CS background teaching the course.

Since last year, the course is no longer “recommended” by the major Flemish school networks in many study profiles. As a result, it is being suppressed in those contexts by rather a lot of schools.

Since last year, children in primary schools should get an integrated course of science and technology, which contains elements of computational thinking.

By the end of grade 8, pupils should have achieved the ICT educational standards. In the recent curricula of other courses (like languages,..) ICT use and digital literacy has been integrated. (Leading to the abolishment of the now “superfluous” Informatics course in grades 9 and 10.)

(6) What are the main successes and failures of K-12 informatics teaching in Flanders?

Although it has not been an official government policy, we do (or did) have in Flemish schools an Informatics course (with at least some IT and CS) for almost all pupils in grades 9 and 10 since more than 20 years. And teachers have been educated to teach this (and similar) course(s) since 1997.

As can be gathered from the above, the current situation of K-12 CS education in Flanders is very chaotic, with as yet little or no official steering, but many interesting (for better or worse) developments. There are e.g., in the last 2 years, a lot of initiatives outside school to bring young children in contact with computational thinking and programming (ex. Fyxilab, Coderdojo, …) A few schools have started to offer a “STEM” profile (in grades 7-8), focusing on engineering at an abstract level. These schools have taken “programming and modelling” as one of three central learning lines to be developed over the 6 years of secondary education. Some other schools have introduced computer science courses which they want to develop into a curriculum for grades 7 to 12. Several interesting initiatives aim at bringing computational thinking and programming in primary schools.

Finally, it is expected that the Flemish Academy of Arts and Sciences (http://www.kvab.be) will publish a report with ambitious policy recommendations on Informatics education in Flemish K-12 in January 2015.