Is prior knowledge necessary for undergraduate computing courses? A study of courses offered by Mauritian universities

Research Paper (postgraduate) 2016 12 Pages

Computer Science - Didactics



Prior computing knowledge is not a pre-requisite for enrolling in many computing undergraduate courses at many universities. It is said that the difficulty of learning computer programming lies only with the logic thinking of the student, not because they did not have prior computing knowledge. Universities all around the world are putting tremendous effort to encourage and support students to acquire basic computing skills and computer programming skills. Therefore in this paper, an analysis of all undergraduate computing courses offered in 2015 by two main Mauritian universities, the University of Technology (UTM) and University of Mauritius (UOM) is carried out. This analysis includes two phases: the first one allows us to identify all computing courses which do not require prior computing knowledge at A-Level to enroll in these courses. The second phase will help us to identify the computing courses which are teaching computer programming. From the two analysis we will be able to understand the number of computing courses not requiring computing at A level but will give non -computing A-level students the chance to learn computer programming at tertiary level.


Computing, Information and communication technologies (ICT), Information Technology (IT), computer programming.

1. Introduction

The world is turning into a digital world and the need to have computer literate nations is becoming important1. Jodie Lopez, Champion Schools Coordinator at Pearson said that we are used to drawing on papers. But now the world is changing, the art will be on computers. Computer graphics, graphics design and so on. A new world which should be considered2.Many countries around the world are working towards a digital society [3, 4, 5 ].For developing countries [6, 7 ], the implementation of a digital culture is more challenging [8, 9 ]compared to its implementation in developed countries. Mauritius among many of these developing countries10 is also putting much effort to turn the island into a cyber island11.Different strategies and different effort are being done to work towards it. For instance, in August 2015, the prime minister of Mauritius launched “the Mauritius Vision 2030”12. It is a committee which has main task to explore different strategies to boost the economy of the country. The digital economy is one of its primary concerns. Other initiatives such as the pilot project known as “Hsc professional”13, the caravan project14 and the ICT in the form1-3 syllabus15 will definitely contribute to the ICT development of the country16.

To be able to achieve this change successfully, we need to alter the mindset of the society. The existing mindset is to hand-write on papers. The new vision is to allow everybody to use Information communication and technology (ICT) devices to write and share data17. People need to adapt themselves to a world where they need to communicate effectively with the different ICT devices such as computers, mobile phones, tablets and laptops.Besides knowing how to use the software in these different devices, we also need to teach people how to build these software even though they do not intent to have a career in the IT18. Teaching students to build software consists of teaching them of the different computer programming skills which exist today. However, the complexity of computer programming often makes students run away from computing classes[19, 20 ].Therefore, we need to teach students whatever we need in our new industry[21, 22 ]. Many universities and secondary schools are currently in the process of making computing classes important in their curriculum to meet the job market requirements23. Therefore, in this paper we highlight the contribution of two main universities in Mauritius to the ICT sector. In 2015, both the University of Mauritius and University of Technology Mauritius allow non-computing A-level holders to enroll to computing courses provided they have the minimum pass mark required in their non-computing subjects.In addition to encourage non- computing A-level students to enroll in IT courses, these universities are also making effort to teach computer programming to students [24, 25 ]. Therefore, two analyses were carried out. The first analysis is on the effort that these two tertiary institutions are putting forward to encourage maximum students to learn Computing. The second analysis is on the effort making by these institutions to teach computer programming to students.

2. Background study

Having one teacher for each student was seen to be costly for many countries26. Computers have allowed students to learn more beyond a classroom. The internet helps students to widen their knowledge and their different academic expertise[26]. Since 2004, all schools in Bavaria (one of the federal states of Germany), made computer science compulsory in their secondary schools to encourage students to learn computing[5]. Object-oriented programming is made compulsory in these schools[5].Word processors, spreadsheets, and paint programs are taught not only like simple everyday tools, but as examples of computer programming too”[4]. In Nigeria[27 ], students who do not have access to internet and computers are most likely to get further behind their peers who do have these facilities. Examinations in Nigeria are carried out on computers in universities[27].Therefore, Nigerian undergraduatestudents need to have ICT skills and knowledge [28, 27].This strategy allows most of Nigerians postgraduate’s students not to have any issues with computer skills[29 ]. On the other hand, Pakistan is perceived to be in a state of infancy regarding technologies and thus, there exists a great hindrance in transforming knowledge into new technologies[30 ].

Computer literacy is important [31, 32, 33 ] for many of us whether we are thinking to have a career in IT or any other field. For instance, even non-computing teachers[18]need to understand how a software works because they will need to use software to teach in their respective class. Linguistic teachers used linguistic software tools to teach their particular language. The teacher is expected to understand how these tools work.Programming skills are also seen useful for many scientists who does not have any prior background of computing[34 ]. As it can be seen, for sure, computer literacy brings many benefits to the job market[35 ].Some universities are making computer literacy a requirement for graduation[36, 37 ]. Some medical universities emphasise on making their medical students acquire some computing skills as well[38 ]. Australian universities[39 ]and many other universities[40, 41 ] around the world are actively conducting research and experiments to support computer programming students.Unesco is also encouraging and helping African countries to teach computing and computer programming[42 ].Unesco made a guide[42]known as the “unesco guide to measure ict in edu” which allows teachers to promote computing classes in a standard way. This guide was purposely meant to be used by African countries to boost their economy. Mauritius being an African countries, is also making effort to promote ICT in the country[43 ].

It is true that prior computing knowledge is not required to enroll in many computing courses[44 ]. However,the lack of computing is not seen to be a big problem. But the lack of logic thinking and problem solving skills is a major concern[44]for many universities.Many novice computer programming tools are being developed to support students to learn computer programming[45, 24]. Such tools include Alice, blueJ, Greenfoot, dragon-drop and many others[45, 24].

3. Methodology

The methodology of this research is a quantitative analysis of all the undergraduate computing courses offered at both UOM and UTM in January 2015. The methodology consists of two parts. The first part is to identify the pre-requisite A-level subjects for undergraduate computing courses at these two tertiary institution and second part is to identify the undergraduate courses which are teaching computer programming to students. This analysis is being conducted by collecting the different undergraduate course structure documents which are available on each of these universities’ website. Based on these documents, the pre-requisite A-level subjects and the course consisting of at least a computer programming module are identified. The data collected are tabulated in tables. In this paper, you will find all these tables in the section results. Pie charts and mathematical subsets are used to represent these data quantitatively.

4. Results

4.1. Pre-requisite A-Level subject:

There exist two main universities in Mauritius. University of Technology Mauritius(UTM) and University of Mauritius(UOM). They offer several undergraduate computing courses. The pre-requisite A-Level subjects for a computing course in most of their undergraduate courses include “mathematics and science”, ”Mathematics only”, “Computing”, “Science or Computing” and “any 2-A level subjects”.

Hence, the following table shows the computing courses offered in 2015 by these two universities and the A-level pre-requisite subjects needed to enroll in this particular computing course. The total number of courses in the table is fifteen. Among the fifteen computing courses, seven of them are UTM computing courses and the remaining eight computing courses are from UOM. The value “Yes” in the table indicates that the particular course require the respective A-level subjects.. For each undergraduate course, an acronym is assigned in the table so that the course can easily be referred in this paper.

For the second row of the table, an example is being given to understand how to read the table. The university of Technology (UTM) is offering Bsc (Hons) Business information Systems. Any 2-A level subjects can be acceptable as an entry for this course (i.e the “Yes” value is in the last column). The same logic applies to the remaining rows in the table.

Table 1 showing the subjects required at A-LEVEL for the 15 courses which have at least 1 IT module in its entire course.

illustration not visible in this excerpt

The data in the previous table is being represented graphically in the following pie chart for statistical analysis. Among the 15 (100%) computing courses, 27 % of the courses require “Mathematics and science” A-level subjects for its course entry. Another 27 % of the remaining computing courses, only Mathematics as A-Level subject is required. 6% of the courses have the option of either a computing A- level subject or a science A-level subject, but with compulsory Mathematics. 13 % have the options of choosing either computing or maths. 20 % of the courses allows A-level holders to enroll in their course with any A-level subjects providing the pass mark is accepted. Finally, only 7 % of the courses requires three subjects (computing, a science subject and mathematics). To conclude, computing at A-level is seen to be an optional for all the 93 % of undergraduate computing courses at these two institutions.

The following diagram represents the figures as described in the previous paragraph.


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Title: Is prior knowledge necessary for undergraduate computing courses? A study of courses offered by Mauritian universities