The Digital Post talks with President of the International Olympiad in Informatics Krassimir Manev about the first European Junior Olympiads in Informatics, taking place in Sofia from 7 to 13 September 2017. His recipe to fix Europe’s digital skills gap: Regular teaching of Informatics and Information Technologies from the first to very last year of school education.
The Digital Post: The first European Junior Olympiads in Informatics are opening today. How the will it work?
Prof. Krassimir Manev: International Olympiads in Informatics are not new. Back in 1989, Bulgaria organized the first international contest for school students – the International Olympiad in Informatics (IOI). In 2007, Serbia hosted the first Olympiad in Informatics for students aged 15,5 in the middle of the year of the contest – the Junior Balkan Olympiad in Informatics (JBOI) – it is a small contest and is not organized every year.
The event that is starting today – the first European Junior Olympiad in Informatics eJOI (http://ejoi.org/) gathers students of the abovementioned age from 22 Council of Europe member countries – more than the number of countries that took part in the first IOI. Among them are four of the first five countries in the eternal ranking of IOI (Russia, Poland, Romania and Bulgaria). We expect to have a very interesting and unpredictable competition of the best European young programmers. And we are also confident that eJOI will soon become one of the most successful events in the area of competitive programming and the results of the contestants from Europe will improve.
The Digital Post: What is its main purpose of the initiative?
Prof. Krassimir Manev: Our main goal is to demonstrate that teaching algorithms and programming for students of age 13-15 is absolutely possible. And more specifically, that young students could achieve better level of knowledge and skills in Informatics when thay start early. We are sure that this is the right way to go and a guarantee for successfull career in the filed. Тhat is why me and my colleagues have made significant efforts to organize international competitions for junior students – the JBOI first and eJOI now.
The Digital Post: The International Olympiad in Informatics (IOI) are a well known, thirty-year long successful story. Where do you see it going in the following years?
Prof. Krassimir Manev: The IOI made significant progress in the past 30 years. First contest had one competition day and contestants had to solve a single task for 4 hours. Now IOI is two day contest with three tasks each day for 4 hours each day. In 1989, in order to solve the task, contestants had to modify a classic algorithm from the textbooks (BFS, for people that know what this means). Today, if somebody proposes such task for a contest of the juniors it will be rejected as too easy.
For 30 years IOI made a substantial progress and evolved a lot – instead of reproducing and modifying classic algorithms from textbooks nowadays contestants have to construct/invent algorithms that are not published in any textbook. Sometimes students that participate in IOI create algorithms that are eligible to be published in a scientific journal. My imagination is not enough to predict what will happen in IOI in 10 years. The only thing that I am sure of is that the progress will continue.
The Digital Post: Digital skills gap is still a major challenge for Europe despite the increasing efforts to address it. In your view, what might be the good recipe to tackle the problem, especially on the side of education?
Prof. Krassimir Manev: My answer is clear. I have stated this many years ago, I did not change my opinion since that time and probably I’ll dedicate the rest of my life to plead for implementing this – regular teaching of Informatics and Information Tecnologies from the first to very last year of school education. The Olympiad that we start today is one of the arguments in favor of the idea! I hope that the authorities from European institutions will understand what I’m pleading for and will support our efforts – in general and in particular to make eJOI a tradition.
For more information check the webpage of the initative: http://ejoi.org/
Picture credits: slimmer_jimmer