Concern over IT change

2013-10-11 00:00

THE Department of Education’s decision to change the programming language which pupils are taught in computer classes has been slammed by IT experts.

By 2016, the department wants all its IT and Computer Applications Technology classes to use the Delphi language as opposed to the Java language currently being used in some provinces, including KZN.

The problem with this, say the IT experts, is that Delphi is outdated while Java is widely used in the IT industry.

There are serious concerns that by using Delphi, South African pupils will not be able to contribute by building real world applications for mobile phones, tablets, web applications and games.

Gauteng-based IT strategist Derek Keats said that IT should be the subject that excites the next generation of software engineers, adding that Delphi was visual oriented while Java was object oriented. “Teaching a moribund language is not going to excite anyone. It would be far better to teach something that is actually in use, and to allow young people to build real world applications for mobile phones, tablets, web applications, games. This is how you excite the next generation,” Keats commented on his blog.

UKZN Information Systems and Technology senior lecturer Dr Irene Govender took a more objective view on the change. She said it was important for teachers to be comfortable with the computer language they teach.

“Debating which language to standardise on should not be an issue, as long as the principles of object-oriented programming (OOP) are achieved,” said Govender.

She said each language has its own pros and cons for specific applications, adding that eight years had passed and the provinces had settled for a language that they were comfortable with.

“The changing curriculum of IT in general discourages teachers from teaching the subject, which in turn has a negative impact on the number of learners taking the subject. Another change in language will definitely have a negative impact on the number of takers for this scarce subject,” she said.

Basic Education Department spokesperson Panyaza Lesufi said when IT was introduced as a subject in 2006, provinces chose between two programming languages, Java and Delphi. Five provinces offered Delphi and four provinces offered Java.

In 2010/11, the DBE proposed a switch to one programming language, but after an investigation, it was recommended that the status quo remain after Java-favouring provinces were against the change.

“The proposal to standardise the programming language was again tabled at a committee of heads of department in March this year. It was agreed that an implementation plan be prepared to change to Delphi to implement the IT curriculum,” said Lesufi.

He said the recommended date of implementation is 2015 for Grade 11 and 2016 for Grade 12. There will be teacher training in 2014 and 2015 for Grade 11 and Grade 12 respectively.

“Having different programming languages proved problematic especially for learners moving between provinces/ schools that use different programming languages. Also, teachers moving between provinces/schools that use different programming languages need training and support to master the differences in syntax [grammar] approach, etc,” he said.

Lesufi said the decision (to standardise) does not affect other activities his department was involved with, such as e-learning and ICT integration in other subjects and grades.

“Only 0,9% of Grade 12 learners take IT and nine percent of Grade 12 learners take CAT. Secondly, the decision was made in consultation with structures that represent provinces and teacher unions where advice was given that a circular be issued,” he said.

Matters that negatively affect learners such as migration between provinces or schools that use different tools, the cost to develop resources for different tools and versions, as well as the fact that the vast majority of schools currently use MS Office were also considered, he said.

Why use Delphi over Java?

According to the Basic Education department, Delphi is a computer language that is syntax (grammar) and environmentally stable. It reads easily and is syntactically more easily linked to human readable, logical content. It is much better suited to a classroom environment and it has reduced the complexity of translating abstract concepts into practical implementation.

Java is a computer language that has an additional layer of complexity and is not suited to a secondary school classroom environment.

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