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Growing a Computer Science Requirement

Japan has taken the bold step of recognizing a need for all high school graduates to have a formal computing course and has modified the high school graduation requirements to include a computing requirement.

Effective in 2003, the Japanese Ministry of Education required that, to graduate, all Japanese high school students complete a course of study called "Information". This course has three basic components:

* practical literacy: includes use of application software such as word processing, spreadsheets, presentation, and drawing;
* scientific concepts of computing: includes number representation, parts of a computer, computer organization, the role of software and hardware, operating systems, and networks;
* social issues: includes the positive and negative impact of computers on business, government, and hospitals; hackers and computer crime; and intellectual property.

Japanese high schools are required to offer at least one of the three approved versions of the "Information" course: version A with an emphasis on practical literacy, version B with an emphasis on scientific concepts, or version C with an emphasis on social issues. Each version of the "Information" course must include basic content from all three components.

Japan requires that all teachers are certified in their appropriate subject area. In anticipation of the new requirement, math and science teachers were given the opportunity to gain "Information" certification by completing a three-week (15-day) crash course in computer studies. The crash course focused on the "Information" Course of Studies as mandated by the Japanese Ministry of Education. Most teachers, feeling somewhat unsure about teaching this content with minimal training, initially offered the A course. It is estimated that approximately 80% of the schools offered only the A course during the first year of the requirement.

This statistic, however, is changing. The original teachers in Japan's crash course now seem to be more comfortable with the required "Information" concepts and are willing to venture into new content. In addition, new teachers have completed pre-service programs in "Information" Education that include degrees involving computing disciplines (CS, IT, Engineering) as well as a course in teaching CS. In 2009, it is believed that the version B and version C courses are offered more frequently, with the version A course still the only “Information” course offered in more than half of the schools.

Perhaps it is possible for the U.S. to learn from the example set by countries such as Japan, by requiring a computer course of all high school graduates and providing a progressive path that helps teachers move from the practical to the more academic concepts of CS.

Anita Verno
CSTA Board of Directors

Michio Chujo
Kwansei Gakuin University
Sanda, Japan

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