In early October, I was in South Korea to speak at the International Symposium of Science Museums. My subject: NewTechKids and our approach to teaching computer science and computational thinking skills to primary school-aged children.

I joined representatives from some of the world’s leading science museums, including the Smithsonian, the Getty Museum, Science Center Singapore and the National Science Museum of Korea. We discussed the social responsibility of science museums and the important role that they can play in terms of inspiring scientific and technological understanding and cultivating scientific talent.

South Korea is the perfect country to spearhead this discussion. With a network of 128 museums dedicated to science, engineering and technology, Korea has leveraged its science museums to support education, research, arts and culture, and innovation activities.

National Science Museum of Korea: Education Programs

The Museum was established in 1949, the year before the Korean war started. South Korea leveraged science and technology to transform the country from one of the poorest in the world to one of the wealthiest and technologically-advanced in Asia.

Today, the Museum is located in Daejeon, a few hours away from Seoul, with 28,710 m2 of building space including nine buildings. Its collection includes approximately  1,184,000 artefacts which attract 11.5 million visitors per year.

The Museum’s education programs cater to everyone, infants and preschoolers, students in primary, middle and high school, university students and adults. The goals for its education programs are very focused: the popularisation of science and the promotion of students with scientific talent. The Museum targets teenagers, organising discussions, special classes and courses, competitions and festivals in order to cultivate interests and expose them to hands on scientific activities and research.

The Museum showcases past, present and future technology and brings its exhibitions to life by using technologies such as virtual reality, 4D gaming, robotics and advanced algorithms.

Focus on Computational Thinking

South Korean students receive computer science education as of grade 7 but plans are underway to teach this topic to younger students. What impressed me the most during my discussions with education experts and Ministry of Education officials was their strategic and long-term thinking which is in line with NewTechKids’ approach. Their emphasis is on helping students develop computational thinking skills, not programming skills. They recognise that at the primary school level especially, it is more important to develop 21st century thinking and problem-solving skills and technological literacy in order to lay a solid foundation for more advanced learning.

South Korea: an emerging leader in computer science education

There are many reasons why I think the world should pay close attention to South Korea in terms of computer science education:
– the country already has a high cultural regard for science and technology;
– a strong ecosystem is already in place to support the development of computer science education (schools, science museums, research institutes, technology companies, etc.);
– girls and boys are exposed to science and technology from a young age so there’s less of a gender divide in terms of interest and engagement; and
– government officials and education experts are collaborating closely to ensure that the focus and pedagogical framework of the country’s computer science curriculum are aligned with the country’s strategic and economic goals.

South Korea has a solid headstart in computer science education because the country has the right mentality and is actively laying the groundwork for the future: ‘We want to lead the development of science and technology, not only import it’. ‘We want to develop Korean talent, not only rely on foreign talent.’

Important Issues to Address

One thing that will really enhance South Korea’s approach to computer science: a greater integration of design, design processes and arts education into its computer science curriculum. This will help students continue to develop skills related to creativity and expression.

Failure is still a cultural taboo in Korea. Since experimentation and failure are necessary parts of the learning process when it comes to computer science education, schools, teachers and students will have to develop new attitudes and become comfortable with processes such as prototyping, testing and iteration.

NewTechKids looks forward to continuing to be inspired and building relationships with computer science education advocates in South Korea.

Deborah Carter
Co-founder and Business Director