How British Columbia implemented its computer science education program

Computer Science (CS) education helps students acquire skills such as computational thinking, problem-solving, and collaboration and has been linked with higher rates of college enrollment (Brown & Brown, 2020; Salehi et al., 2020). A recent randomized control trial also showed that lessons in computational thinking improved student response inhibition, planning, and coding skills (Arfé et al., 2020). Since these skills take preeminence in the rapidly changing 21st century, CS education promises to significantly enhance student preparedness for the future of work and active citizenship. 

CS education can also reduce skills inequality if education systems make a concerted effort to ensure that all students have equitable access to curricula that provide them with the needed breadth of skills—regardless of their gender, ethnicity, or socioeconomic status.

Based on prior analysis and expert consultation, we selected 11 country, state, and provincial CS education case studies that may apply broadly to other education systems. These cases have come from diverse global regions and circumstances and have implemented CS education programs for various periods and with different levels of success. As such, we have examined information to extract lessons that can lead to successful implementation in other parts of the world.

This study will focus on how the Canadian province of British Columbia (B.C.) developed its computer science program. B.C. is home to a growing technology industry and is one of the leading Canadian provinces for K-12 CS and computational thinking education (Gannon & Buteau, 2018). Its education system creates opportunities for students to pursue CS education based on their interests, including theoretical and quantitative concepts, practical applications, and problem-solving. Further, the province’s approach to teacher professional development and student engagement merits consideration.

An overview of CS education in British Columbia

After decades of including computer literacy as part of the mandatory curriculum, B.C. announced its intention to begin instructing its K-12 students in CS in 2016 (Burgmann, 2016). District superintendents had expressed concern that teachers did not understand the topic well enough to teach it, and in response, the government invested 6 million Canadian dollars in professional development programs so teachers could include computational thinking concepts in their lesson plans. Between the summer of 2016 and the fall of 2017, the ministry contracted NGO partners Lighthouse Labs and Kids Code Jeunesse to create modules and deliver teacher training workshops across the province.

After two years of planning and preparation, implementation began in the fall of 2018. Today, the B.C. school system offers parallel electives in CS and programming as part of the Mathematics and Applied Design, Skills, and Technologies (ADST) curriculum for students in grades 11 and 12. These offerings appeal to students with both theoretical and creative inclinations and have the potential to generate interest in CS among secondary school students.

B.C.’s experience with CS education highlights four important lessons:

  • Integrating CS into different areas of the curriculum can help make the subject more accessible to students based on their academic or professional inclinations.
  • Incorporating marginalized groups’ perspectives into pedagogy can foster inclusion in CS education. In B.C., select tribal schools have made strides in introducing aboriginal students to CS by integrating storytelling and games into CS concepts and activities.
  • Universities play a critical role in creating a sustainable pipeline of preservice teachers who understand CS subject matter and pedagogy.
  • Other stakeholders, such as NGOs and private companies, can play a significant role by lending technical expertise to providing professional development and certification opportunities for teachers focusing on CS.

Read the full case study>>

Janelle B. Smith

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