The declining number of participants in the second round of the annual Standard Bank/Computer Society Computer Olympiad could point to a reduction in the number of students studying computer science and programming.
Altogether, 22 765 students from 361 schools took part in the First Round of the Computer Olympiad in March. Of these, 2 714 students from 181 schools qualified to participate in the Second Round. The top 13 students from the Second Round will participate in the Final Round on 27 and 28 September at the University of Cape Town.
Peter Waker, manager of the Standard Bank/CSSA Computer Olympiad, comments: "Many schools are using the First Round of the Computer Olympiad as an aptitude test to see if learners should consider a career in IT. It is encouraging to see the number of First Round entries every year. It proves that there is an increasing interest in ICT as a career among learners."
However, he is concerned that the number of Second Round students seems to be declining. "This is a result of fewer and fewer schools offering computer programming courses – mostly as a result of a chronic shortage of teachers to offer the subject.
"Many schools are switching to a new subject, Computer Application Technology (CAT), which teaches the use of common applications such as word processors and spreadsheets.
"The eventual result of this will be that students will enter or avoid a tertiary programming course without having any idea what programming is, whether they like it or are suited to it.
"Some students who should have pursued a career in ICT will not do so; some who should have avoided ICT will waste a year on a course which does not interest them. Somehow an introduction to programming should be included in another subject or at least in Computer Application Technology."
Meanehile, the Top 50 schools and students who participated in the Second Round of the Computer Olympiad were announced in Cape Town, together with the names of the learners who have been invited to take part in the Final Round.
A great attraction is the additional R100 000.00 in prize money made available by Mark Shuttleworth for participants using Python. Python is the Open Source programming language used by Mark to write the computer software that made him a billionaire.
Marco Gallotta, a leading member of the Scientific Committee which set the questions, added: "The questions in the Second Round were very challenging, and the average learner did not score very high. To our surprise, a small group of learners succeeded in scoring close to full marks."
An unusually large number of Grade 11 participants have made their way to the Final Round for 2008.
In addition, a blind learner, Rynhardt Kruger from the Pioneer School, made it into the Top 50 after entering through neighbouring school, Worcester Gymnasium.
The top 13 students are Sheldon Maze of St Andrew's College; Sheldon Baird Sheldon of Elspark High; Divan Burger of Pretoria Boys' High;
Graham Manuell of De La Salle Holy Cross; Schalk-Willem Krüger of Ferdinand Postma High; Gwylim Ashley of Oakhill School; Francois Conradie of De Kuilen High; Roland Elliott of Rondebosch Boys' High; Robert Ketteringham of Rondebosch Boys' High; Christopher Lester of Diocesan College (Bishops); James Lewis of Parel Vallei High; Moolla Haroon of Rondebosch Boys' High; and Kosie van der Merwe of Brackenfell High.