Monthly Archives: May 2015

Informatics in Schools in Switzerland

(1) What is your name? What do you do? Where are you from?

My Name is Walter Gander, I am a professor emeritus of ETH
Zurich. Here is my address.

(2) Is there an informatics teaching at K-12 level in Switzerland?

If so at which level and it is mandatory or optional? How many students take this courses? What does the curriculum look like? Who teaches it? Do you have informatics teachers in Switzerland or is it taught by teachers of other disciplines?

Right now, Spring 2015, the answer is no. There is no mandatory informatics teaching in schools.

Switzerland, a country of 8 million inhabitants, is divided in 26 Cantons. Each of them has its specific school system. The education is divided in Primary School (grades 1–6, some Cantons only grades 1-4), Secondary School I (grades 7-9, respectively 5-9) and several Secondary Schools II (grades 10–12). See http://www.ides.ch/dyn/14861.php.

The Secondary School II is divided in different directions: the Gymnasium with goal to go for a study at a university, specialized middle schools and vocational schools.

The first attempt to introduce informatics in the Swiss gymnasia was when the personal computer (PC) around 1984 appeared. The minister of Education at that time, Prof. Urs Hochstrasser, changed 1986 the name of the subject “Descriptive Geometry” to “Applied Mathematics”. This was meant as a compromise to let the old teachers continue to teach
Descriptive Geometry till their retirement while giving the younger teachers the opportunity to introduce Computer Science. At that time a PC was essentially bare of software, thus it was necessary to develop applications by own programs, often written in Pascal. Spirit of
discovery and creativity inspired the students, though at the same time many teachers were frustrated by frequent breakdowns and system changes. Many of those enthusiastic former high-school students — the first generation educated in computer science — are now successful computer scientists.

In the following years many applications were developed. Computers became ubiquitous, easier to handle and there was no need to program own applications. The Internet was born and connected the world. Therefore a strong movement emerged 1995 in Switzerland that teaching programming in schools was no longer necessary. Instead one should concentrate on teaching skills to make good use of the computers.

The next reform of the matura curriculum in 1995 therefore did not mention informatics anymore. The idea was that the computer is used everywhere in each subject, from German Language teaching to mathematics. Thus the emphasis was on learning to work with computers using Microsoft Office and the Internet. There were no specific educated informatics teachers, the teacher colleges had no and still do not have training in informatics.

The situation became for the industry and for academia uneasy. Pressure to introduce “real computer science” grew. Finally with a small reform in 2008 an elective subject (Ergänzungsfach) for informatics was introduced in the gymnasia. It is usually taught by a mathematics teacher. The curriculum is quite divers, a typical example can be found in the regulations of Canton Bern.

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

In Primary and Secondary Schools I there is no computer literacy in the curriculum. Some Secondary Schools I offer voluntarily digital literacy lectures, others encourage the students to study for the ECDL license. In Secondary Schools II computer literacy is often mandatory and taught in most schools with big diversity.

For Secondary Schools II there is a range from a minimum of 1 weekly hour for one semester to 25% of lecturing hours for the business computer science school (Wirtschaftsinformatik).

(4) Is there an informatics teacher society in Switzerland?

yes the SV!A/SS!E/SS!I. The informatics teacher society web-page shows the current situation
of teaching in schools.

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

Switzerland worked in the last years on a curriculum reform in schools. The French part finished and implemented the reform in 2013. The new curriculum PER (Plan d’études romand) does not contain informatics as a subject, computer science or informatics is not even mentioned.

The German Cantones worked on the Lehrplan21 since 2010. The first version which was published 2013 for consultation. It still referred to an overall subject “Media and ICT”, of which elements would be used in all regular subjects. No teachers and no assigned hours were scheduled for this subject. After many advances from Industry and academia, the 21 directors of educations of the 21 German speaking Cantones decided in Fall 2014 that there will be a new subject called “Media and Informatics”. The informatics part will be concerned with fundamentals and also include teaching programming. Special trained teachers will teach this part. The implementation will depend on the Canton and start in 2015.

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

The main failure was after 1995 to concentrate in education only on computer literacy, notably only on achieving the ECDL (European Computer Driving License). The implications were disastrous, because the young people did not understand the fundamentals of informatics. Informatics is a basic science like mathematics and needs to be part of general education.

Another new problem came up with “media education” (“Medienkunde”) which became popular in recent time in teacher colleges. It was not easy in Switzerland to explain and convince the politicians and education managers to separate informatics from media education and not to merge it as one subject under the name “New Media”. The name of the subject in the German Swiss schools is now “Medien und Informatik” but the goal is that a person educated in computer science will teach the informatics part. We expect the Cantones to start implementing the new subject in Fall 2015.

Contact

Prof. Dr. Walter Gander, Emeritus
ETH Zurich
Department of Computer Science
CAB F 10.1
Universitaetstrasse 6
8092 Zurich, Switzerland

gander@inf.ethz.ch
http://www.inf.ethz.ch/personal/gander/

+41 44 632 74 30 Telefon
+41 44 632 13 90 Fax