Tech lobby thrilled about computer coding in schools

People who work in Saskatchewan’s technology sector are applauding the provincial government’s pledge to introduce new computer coding courses in elementary and high schools, hoping to solve an industry-wide labour crunch. The province’s tech sector is still comparatively small, but rapid growth has resulted in a shortage of experienced software developers, and the problem is expected to get worse, according to a spokesman for a new industry lobby group. “We can identify several hundred open jobs right now,” said Aaron Genest, who works for the computer chip developer Solido Design Automation Inc. and speaks for SaskTech, which represents more than 40 companies with about 5,000 employees. “It’s an early indicator of the challenges that we’re going to face in 10, 15, 25 years … In the long term, we need to prepare our children to see (computer science) programs as part of their future.” The Saskatchewan Party

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SaskTech spokesman Aaron Genest in the Saskatoon offices of Solido Design Automation Inc.

government committed to developing the curriculum in its throne speech, which was read in the legislature on Wednesday. It said the courses will prepare children for careers in science, engineering and technology.  The promise emerged from consultations with SaskTech and the broader industry.  Education Minister Bronwyn Eyre said this week that while the mechanics have yet to be worked out, she would like to see the courses being taught “as soon as possible.” She declined to provide a specific timeline but said enthusiasm for the proposal is widespread. The main challenge is a shortage of qualified teachers, the Stonebridge–Dakota MLA said. Saskatchewan only has about 70 teachers qualified to instruct high school students in computer science, and the province’s two education colleges must work to increase that number, she said. Saskatchewan’s 28 school boards have spent the last six months grappling with a 1.2 per cent, or $22 million, operational funding reduction handed down in the government’s unpopular 2017-18 budget, which aims to halve a $1.2 billion deficit this year. Eyre said the province’s financial situation has “no relevance” to the development of coding courses. “Now that the focus is there, and so the resources will, I’ve been assured, fall into place,” she said.  Michelle Naidu, associate director of development for the Saskatchewan Teachers Federation, noted it takes years to develop new courses, and professional development resources are already scarce; however, she said the proposed courses could benefit students. “Computational thinking is going to start showing up in all kinds of jobs as we move away from people doing work,” said Naidu, who is also the president of the Saskatchewan Math Teachers Society. “It’s really hard to predict the future, but everyone seems to be very happy to understand that technology is going to play a larger role in everyone’s future, and so that understanding of the basics of how that works is to everyone’s advantage.” Genest said SaskTech is thrilled the government was open to considering the industry’s proposals, and that while introducing the courses will take time it signals a willingness to boost an emerging sector in the provincial economy.  “It means that they’re committing to a homegrown solution to it (so) that Saskatchewan citizens are going to be able to step in and fill the gap in a technology-driven future.” Measuring the size of the province’s tech sector is difficult, as its work is diverse and often overlaps with other industries. However, the provincial government estimates its economic impact is around $540 million — just under one per cent of the provincial GDP. “Absolutely, it has economic potential,” Eyre said of the proposal. “And absolutely that’s why we’re doing it. We need to take our place as a province that offers this to our students.”

 

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Another Programming Competetion

My Computer Science classes have competed in several coding competitions over the years. This is a post for my students to link to some current and past competitions:

 

University of Manitoba Computer Science team wins international robotics competition

U of M team wins international robotics competitionJUNE 1, 2015 — The U of M’s Autonomous Agents lab won the 2015 ICRA DARWIN-OP Humanoid Application Challenge, one of the five robot challenges at the IEEE ICRA conference, one of the world’s premiere conferences in robotics. The conference was held May 26-30, 2015 at the Washington State Convention Center in Seattle, Washington, USA.The U of M team won the challenge for developing the worlds first “cross country and downhill skiing robot.” Work, which they revealed earlier this year on YouTube, which received a significant amount of media attention.The robot named after Canadian three-time Olympic gold medal hockey player Jennifer Botterill won the DARWIN-OP award, previously in 2012 for her ice hockey playing abilities.The competition required a video submission demonstrating the work, and also a live demonstration and presentation at the conference. The work was presented by Dr. Jacky Baltes of the department of computer science, graduate student Chris Iverach-Brereton, and undergraduate student Brittany Postnikoff”“We are very proud of their achievement and excited, the award comes with more than $14,000 worth of robotics equipment which we can’t wait to use to further our research,” said Dr. John Anderson, Professor and Head of the department of computer science.The AA lab hopes that the technology developed through sports-playing robots will one day lead to mechanized firefighters or rescue bots capable of dealing with the breadth of humanoid motion, walking, skating, skiing.While some may find the little two-foot robot simply entertaining to watch, the novelty the robot is her ability to maneuver herself by turning her ankles inwards or outwards to steer, her ability to gain traction, and balance herself in real-time on unstable ground. Read more here