Last week, Deborah Carter, Stichting NewTechKids’s Director of Fundraising and Strategic Partnerships, travelled to South Korea to speak at the International Symposium of Science Museums. Her subject: sharing our approach to teaching computer science and computational thinking skills to primary school-aged children.

She joined representatives from some of the world’s leading science museums, including the Smithsonian, the Getty Museum, Science Center Singapore and the National Science Museum of Korea. We discussed the social responsibility of science museums and the important role that they can play in terms of inspiring scientific and technological understanding and cultivating scientific talent.

South Korea focused on science and technology to transform itself from an impoverished nation to one of the world’s wealthiest, most technologically advanced countries in 2016. With a network of 128 museums dedicated to science, engineering and technology, Korea has leveraged its science museums to support education, research, arts and culture, and innovation activities.

Focus on Computational Thinking

Deborah shared information about Stichting NewTechKids’ pedagogy and teaching approaches and outlined how we develop lessons and teaching materials. She also outlined our partnerships with organisations such as NewTechKids, the Amsterdam Municipal Library and Projectenbureau Primair Onderwijs Zuidoost (PPOZO) which organise computer science programs during and after school. Our focus on computational thinking, rather than coding and technical skills, struck a chord with South Korean education experts and Ministry of Education officials  because this is also their strategic, long-term goal for student.

South Korean students receive computer science education as of grade 7 but plans are underway to teach this topic to younger students. Education experts there recognise that at the primary school level especially, it is more important to develop 21st century thinking and problem-solving skills and technological literacy in order to lay a solid foundation for more advanced learning.

South Korea: an emerging leader in computer science education

There are many reasons why the world should pay close attention to South Korea in terms of computer science education:
– the country already has a high cultural regard for science and technology;
– a strong ecosystem is already in place to support the development of computer science education (schools, science museums, research institutes, technology companies, etc.);
– girls and boys are exposed to science and technology from a young age so there’s less of a gender divide in terms of interest and engagement; and
– government officials and education experts are collaborating closely to ensure that the focus and pedagogical framework of the country’s computer science curriculum are aligned with the country’s strategic and economic goals.

South Korea has a solid headstart in computer science education because the country has the right mentality and is actively laying the groundwork for the future: ‘We want to lead the development of science and technology, not only import it’. ‘We want to develop Korean talent.’

Important Issues to Address

One thing that will really enhance South Korea’s approach to computer science: a greater integration of design, design processes and arts education into its computer science curriculum. This will help students continue to develop skills related to creativity and expression.

Failure is still a cultural taboo in South Korea. Since experimentation and failure are necessary parts of the learning process when it comes to computer science education, schools, teachers and students will have to develop new attitudes and become comfortable with processes such as prototyping, testing and iteration.

Stichting NewTechKids looks forward to continuing to be inspired and building relationships with computer science education advocates and experts in South Korea.

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