The Bebras Challenge, an informatics (computer science or computing) and computational thinking contest, was established in Lithuania in 2004. The Challenge quickly became international, and more countries join the Challenge each year. There has been a worldwide increase in the demand for informatics engineers and information technology specialists who are capable of developing innovative and smart computer programmes and providing variety of intellectual services. This places a significant task upon education; the development of algorithmical, analytical, informational, logical, systematical, and processual cognition should start at primary school or even at kindergarten. This is exactly the aim of the Bebras Challenge. Tasks for the Challenge are created by all participant countries – about 300 tasks each year. This helps to incorporate various scientific schools and aims into the Challenge, and to form a vision of future developments in the field of informatics.
The Bebras Challenge has an impact not only on schools whose students participate in the Challenge and whose teachers discuss the tasks. As part of the development of the tasks, informatics and engineering teaching guidelines and the content taught are formed, and new platforms and systems are developed. The latter include systems for implementing interactive tasks, adapting contests to mobile devices and voice control, etc.
School students and teachers benefit the most from this project, as all schools and children of all ages (from 6 to 19) can participate. The Bebras Challenge is also very beneficial to education policy makers and researchers, who work together on methodology of informatics and computational thinking education. More than a hundred research papers are published in connection to Bebras Challenge (https://www.bebras.org/?q=publications). Thanks to this cooperation, a significant international community of informatics teachers and professors has formed. The ideas of this community also have an influence on the members of society who care about education. The Bebras challenge promotes problem solving skills and Informatics concepts including the ability to break down complex tasks into simpler components, algorithm design, pattern recognition, pattern generalisation and abstraction.
The aim of the Bebras Challenge is to show students and teachers the beauty of informatics, to get them involved, to introduce to them the basic notions of informatics and information technology, including their wider context, and to motivate them to study contemporary decision making methods in the fields of mathematics and engineering. Playful and accessibly formulated tasks include all fundamental areas of informatics and showcase their importance and relation to other fields of science. This is a challenging task. Presenting scientific problems and tasks in a popular way poses the risk of oversimplifying fundamental questions or distorting them. To avoid this, many informatics scientists and practitioners are involved in the development of tasks, and the tasks are discussed and analysed many times.
The idea of the Bebras Challenge
The idea of an informatics and computational thinking contest was born in 2003, when the author of these lines was travelling in Finland with informatics experts. The activity of beavers near lakes and rivers were discovered. The beaver is a determined animal that successfully builds dams in fast flowing rivers and works hard to achieve its goals. The results of beaver labour can be seen in many rivers and creeks in Lithuania. It seems as if the beavers compete which of them will fell the most trees and build the most dams.
In comparison, the Mathematical Kangaroo is a contest that Lithuanian schools have participated in for quite some time. Students solve mathematical tasks and puzzles for the context, while at the same time developing their thinking and imagination. Informatics educators had the idea to develop a similar contest in the field of informatics (computer science or computing). The Kangaroo Contests are now a yearly event in more than 70 countries. The Bebras Challenge is run in more than 60 countries each year.
Prof. Dr. Valentina Dagienė
Chief Researcher, Institute of Data Science and Digital Technologies, VU MIF
Chair, Organising Committee, the Bebras Challenge
Click here to find out more about the Bebras Challenge.