After matriculating in 2018, many learners will enter the field of Computer Science.
Promising big salaries and a tech-centric career path, the field is enticing to those with an interest in tech and software development.
However, Computer Science is a challenging subject at university – and many students may find the coursework too difficult to complete.
Different universities have different requirements for students wanting to study Computer Science, but there is one clear thread between them all – mathematical ability.
Computer Science is a mathematical field, and those who aren’t proficient with numbers and problem solving would be better advised to select a different field of study.
Even those with good matric maths marks may struggle with Computer Science, due in part to declining maths standards in the school curriculum.
MyBroadband previously spoke with Mathematics teachers and lecturers, and learned that matric maths levels have dropped over the past 20 years.
Respected academic Jonathan Jansen previously said that “passing Grade 12 in South Africa is actually quite easy, and it means very little”.
To see how the latest batch of university students will fare, MyBroadband asked Computer Science lecturers from South Africa’s leading universities whether first year students are sufficiently equipped to deal with the course.
Problem solving skills
Professor George Wells of Rhodes University said that matric studies aren’t always a good indication of a student’s ability to succeed in Computer Science.
“There is evidence to suggest that ability to succeed in Computer Science is determined more by aptitude than by formal school preparations,” said Wells.
According to Wells, it would be ideal if schools improved incoming students’ abilities in problem solving, logical reasoning, and intrinsic motivation.
This wish was echoed by UCT Computer Science lecturer Aslam Safla, who noted that problem solving isn’t confined to maths or science – and that the skill should be prioritised throughout the school curriculum.
Safla said that most students are suitably prepared for first year Computer Science, due to the requirement at UCT that students achieve above 70% in matric mathematics.
However, he noted that they do sometimes encounter students who lack the sufficient problem solving skills to succeed in Computer Science.
IT at school
Wells said that studying matric IT can also help first year Computer Science students, but only if the IT learner has received good teaching.
“If IT is well taught at school – and that’s a very big if – then it can be a help. If not, one has the difficult problem of trying to get students to unlearn bad practices and habits, as well as learn better programming techniques,” said Wells.
Safla said that private school IT students tend to have a significant advantage over those who did not study IT, whereas public school IT students tend only to have a slight advantage.
“In general, students entering from government schools were exposed to programming in Delphi, while those from private schools have had exposure to Java,” he explained.
Safla added that there is a big difference between Delphi and the languages taught in first year Computer Science, whereas the Java curriculum teaches very similar concepts to those covered in the first few weeks of Computer Science at university.