Today's society requires citizens to have a greater knowledge of information technology. Strategy programs at a national level define the skills needed in an information society and encourage people to learn these skills (Ministry of Education, 2004). In order for everybody to have the opportunity to learn the basics of the new technology, computer science (CS) should be included in general education.
The Finnish Educational System
In the Finnish educational system, high schools (HSs) are referred to as upper secondary schools. The principal objective of these schools is to provide students aged 16-19 with general, all-round education preparing them for further studies and life in general.
According to Ben-Ari (2004), a science can be taught at lower levels when it matures. CS has traditionally been taught mainly at university level, but Ben-Ari argues that the time has come for it to be introduced at lower levels of education as well. For instance, in the USA (Merritt et al., 1993) and in Israel (Gal-Ezer, Beeri, Harel, & Yehudai, 1995), CS curricula for HSs were developed in the 1990s. In Finland, the situation seems to be going in the opposite direction: CS is not part of the HS core curriculum (National Board of Education, 2003). CS has thus a completely different position than other sciences, such as mathematics and physics, which are compulsory at secondary level.
Considering (1) the objective of HSs, (2) Ben-Ari's vision and (3) Finland being one of the leading nations in the field of information technology, it can be seen as something of a paradox that CS is not included in the core curriculum of HSs; institutions that should provide all-round learning are not obliged to provide their students with tuition in perhaps one of the most important subject areas today.
Implications of the Lack of CS in High Schools
When there are no formal requirements for instruction in CS, many HSs are not likely to expand the range of courses to include genuine CS courses; in the worst case, they will arrange no CS-related courses at all. If CS-related courses are taught at all, they are largely practical, aimed at teaching the students how to use the computer and various software packages. The essential skills needed by all citizens in everyday life, such as algorithmic and logical thinking skills, are not developed when simply using the computer as a tool.
Moreover, misconceptions of CS as focusing on computer hardware are reinforced when instruction is concentrated on purely technical and practical aspects. This has implications both for the general public and for future computer scientists; in particular, female students may be intimidated by the stereotypical, nevertheless common, view of CS represented by a young male hacker sitting in front of his computer drinking soft drinks and eating pizza (Martin, 2004).
These misconceptions may also result in students enrolling in CS courses on the misconception that they will be of a practical nature, being unaware of the distinction between computer literacy and CS. During ITiCSE 2003 (Innovation and Technology in Computer Science Education--an international conference for researchers and practitioners in the field of CS education), a working group convened around the topic "Preparing students for university study in CS." Among other things, it analyzed the performance of CS students in different countries during their first years at university (Alexander et al., 2003). One conclusion was that students do not know what to expect when enrolling for studies in CS: "students who join a degree programme on the basis of experience in using PCs and games consoles are likely to face something of a culture shock" (p.144).
Furthermore, researchers have studied factors predicting success in university CS, and many of them have found that pre-university CS courses increase the chance of students succeeding at university level (Alexander et al. …