by Dr. Sylvia Charp Editor-in-Chief Iwas very honored to have been invited to a UNESCO-sponsored workshop held in Bankya, Bulgaria, November 18-20, 1994, to present a paper on the topic of "Informatics in Secondary Schools: Today and Tomorrow." In addition to papers from selected Bulgarian teachers, researchers and administrators, representatives from 11 European countries participated -- Austria, England, France, Germany, Ireland, Norway, Poland, Romania, Russia, Slovakia and The Netherlands. Simultaneous translation in both Bulgarian and English encouraged lively discussion among participants. Proceedings are to be published in English in the near future. The subjects and presentations varied. For example, they included "Using Spreadsheets to Help Understand Mathematical Concepts"; "Integration of Technology into Elementary and Secondary Curriculum"; "An Expert Systems Shell for School Use"; "Overview of Informatics Education in Secondary Schools in Romania"; "Computer-Based Simulations and Micro-Based Laboratories in Science Education"; and "Information Technology and Education -- Norwegian Educational Policy." Many papers made similar statements: Need for more resources; New curriculum should be developed to take full advantage of technology's capabilities; Information technology should be integrated throughout the curriculum, where useful; and Careful planning is essential to provide a clear and commonly accepted method of approach. Definitions Differ Among Nations Discussions on the meaning of Informatics and Information Technology were very interesting. Their meanings differ in various countries. UNESCO, in a new publication, Informatics for Secondary Education -- A Curriculum for Schools (1994), offers the following definitions: Informatics is the science dealing with the design, realization, evaluation, use and maintenance of information processing systems, including hardware, software, organizational and human aspects, and the industrial, commercial, governmental and political implications. Informatics technology are the applications of informatics to society. Information technology is the combination of informatics technology with other, related technology. The publication also states "Information Technology (IT) is one of the basic building blocks of modern society. All young people need a grounding in IT skills and concepts to help prepare for their future, to secure good jobs and to contribute to wealth creation... Topics for all students include computer hardware and software, text processing, working with graphics and databases, social and ethical issues; with optional modules on elementary programming and a range of applications including desktop publishing, multimedia, modeling, simulation, robots and expert systems." Informatics Curricula Teaching of Computer Literacy has re-emerged as the first level in an Informatics Curricula, in addition to the topics stated above. The other levels are: Level II - Application of IT Tools in Other Subject Areas: This should be available within general education at both foundation and advanced levels. Topics would include robots & feedback devices; modeling & simulations; working with multimedia, and more. Level III - Application of Informatics in Other Subject Areas: Students should be able to use methods and techniques from informatics in combination with IT tools to solve problems in other subjects, such as advanced elements of programming, software development or applications in graphics, robotics or artificial intelligence. Level IV - Application of Informatics in Professional Areas: Students should be able to use methods and techniques from informatics in combination with IT tools to solve professional problems from business and industry. This level would probably be addressed in Vocational Education at an advanced level. Topics would include project management, process-control systems and business information systems. It was obvious that countries approached the teaching of Informatics and use of technology in education in different ways. No conclusions were reached; all participants agreed that countries will determine their own needs. However, the primary goal is to help students be better equipped to live in a changing society. As Dr. Sendov, Bulgarian chair of the program committee and a well-known mathematician, stated in his closing remarks, different points of view are healthy. Definitions are important as we analyze trends and new developments. However, resources, priorities and needs will shape each country's utilization and curriculum decisions. All of us have changed our way of thinking as a result of our dependence on information. Information pollution may be a serious problem for which we must be prepared. The workshop did not solve any immediate problems or definitively answer many questions. It did, however, make us aware that other countries are facing similar issues and are willing to try other approaches. Opportunities to learn from each other exist. No Need to be Overwhelmed A word of caution: Do not be overwhelmed by the ever-changing technology and the often seemingly prohibitive start-up costs. Find out what you need. It certainly appears to be the direction in which we are heading.
This article originally appeared in the 01/01/1995 issue of THE Journal.