Incorporating Python Into Bhutanese School Curriculum - Vital In Realising Its Dream Of Becoming A Silicon Shangri-la

In order to fulfil Bhutan's potential as a future hub for IT and innovation, it is important to implement Python programming into its curriculum.

Free Python e-books. (Source: medium.mybridge.co)

 

By Sasha Ramani | Kuensel

The contributor graduated with a Master’s degree in Public Policy from the Harvard Kennedy School in 2018, where he studied technology and innovation policy.

 

In April, my fellow Harvard Kennedy School alumni, Kinga Tshering wrote an article on his blog describing the potential of teaching Python, the computer programming language to Bhutanese students.

His post spawned a lively debate on the merits of Python versus other programming languages, and the value of teaching students programming languages.  

Computer programming is not about learning complicated code. At its core, it is about information and communication.

The desired qualities of a programmer

A programmer must convey instructions to a computer and ensure that these instructions are understood correctly. Therefore, computer science is an intellectual art that requires logic, mathematics, communication and empathy. Students possessing all of these skills are highly desired by technology firms, financial institutions, academia, and businesses around the world.

Luckily, learning computer science is easier than ever today, thanks to Python. Python is a programming language that emerged in 1990, and is heavily based on the older programming language C.

However, Python is considerably “higher level” than C, which means that the computer automatically handles many tasks for a Python programmer that a C programmer must consider manually.

Differences between Python and C

Consider two cars: one with automatic transmission (Python) and another with manual transmission (C). While all cars are concerned with braking, acceleration and gear shifting, the automatic transmission car handles many of these tasks automatically, without the driver even being aware of them. Similarly, Python automatically handles details such as pointers and computer memory utilisation that a C programmer would have to handle manually.

There are advantages and disadvantages to this. On one hand, the barriers to learning Python are extremely low. A Python student will quickly be able to apply their skills and see tangible results from their education.

However, this student will have less control over some of the details that may be required for more advanced programming. To bring back our analogy, a manual transmission car could be helpful when driving in particularly challenging terrain, such as in Bhutan’s mountainous countryside. 

 

Source: Enodo global

While students seeking to work at Google or Facebook may therefore want to learn C, or at least be familiar with it, Python is almost certainly the best program for most applications. Aside from being a “high level” language (as previously discussed), Python has several advantages.

Advantages of Python

First, Python code emphasises beauty and readability. This means that an amateur programmer can generally read a short Python program and understand what it is meant to do. It also means fewer errors being caused by misplaced {curly brackets} and semicolons, as in some other languages.

Second, Python is like “lego”. This means that many different “bricks” exist on the internet to be used by others. For data science, a Python programmer can quickly import the free online packages “Numpy” and “Pandas” to run complicated analysis, instead of building these capabilities from scratch.

For web programming, “Flask” and “Django” are packages that can quickly help Python programmers build functional websites. These are all free and open source packages that other programmers have written and deployed for the benefit of the community. There is no comparison for the depth of packages and accompanying documentation that Python supports.

Free online courses on Python

Third, there are countless free online courses that help Python students get started. Dasho Kinga previously cited CS50, which is Harvard University’s largest course, offered free online through the portal at edx.com.

Other online courses exist on udemy.com, coursera.com, udacity.com, codeacademy.com, datacamp.com, and other portals. Finding a programming course is not difficult – but there are so many to choose from, that selecting one is.

The surfeit of Python courses is reflective of something else: its versatility. Python is used across the spectrum of computer science, from data science to web programming and everything in between. Therefore, it has become an industry standard for several different applications. 

For students interested in data science, the School of Information at the University of California, Berkeley lists a few of its preferred introductory Python courses. Udacity offers a Data Science nano-degree that is generally highly regarded. More mathematically-inclined students can enrol in Stanford University’s Machine Learning course, offered on Coursera.

For anyone interested in web programming or a more holistic understanding of computer programming, I would recommend Harvard’s CS50, offered for free on EdX. CS50 forces its students to begin coding with C so that they understand pointers and memory use before transitioning to Python and web design.

Therefore, it is a challenging course that is not for the faint of heart. But it is likely the “gold standard” of well-rounded introductory programming courses, and is taught at high schools and universities around the world to thousands of students every year.

Python is only a small (though significant) part of CS50, both because it uses C to lay a foundation of computer programming principles and because web programming requires knowing parts of many different languages (such as HTML and Javascript).

Benefits of incorporating CS50 into the Bhutanese School Curriculum

Bhutanese schools that are serious about teaching computer science should consider implementing CS50 into their curricula.

Now, tot every Bhutanese student will aspire to become a computer scientist. But as computers continue their inexorable dominance of personal and professional life, learning how to communicate and work with them becomes increasingly important.

Computer science simply must be a part of any well-rounded student’s education. If Bhutan is to truly realise its potential of being a “Silicon Shangri-La”, it must seriously incorporate computer science into its educational framework. With so many free courses available, including by reputed schools like Harvard University, there is no excuse to wait.

  

This article first appeared in Kuensel and has been edited for the Bhutan Times.

 


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