UG’s Department of Computer Science imbuing graduates with critical thinking & problem solving skills

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DEDICATION and commitment of faculty members are key to improving the quality of computer science graduates being produced by the University of Guyana (UG), according to UG’s Head of the Department of Computer Science, Mr. Lenandlar Singh.

That department was lauded by a prominent private sector representative for its contribution to augmenting the country’s information and communication technology (ICT) skills set. In a keynote address to an ICT conference held at the Pegasus Hotel last month, Senior Vice President of the Georgetown Chamber of Commerce and Industry (GCCI), Mr. Lance Hinds, had observed that UG’s Computer Science Department was now producing “far better graduates.”

“The Department of CS [Computer Science] comprises a very determined, dedicated and committed network of young educators [who] are passionate about the field and the importance of it in the context of national development,” Singh told the Guyana Chronicle yesterday, adding: “Our current structure was built from scratch through the total commitment of all of our members.”

Quality

He indicated that this department places a premium on pedagogy. “Most of our teaching staff has received formal training in education,” Singh pointed out, while noting that, individually, each faculty member is dedicated “to life-long learning”.

He added, though, that difficulty in retaining staff is somewhat of a constraint.

The department’s lecturers deploy a range of strategies for improving the way they teach and the way students learn, Singh stated, while noting: “We focus extensively on the development of critical thinking and problem solving skills.”

The department’s educators evaluate the progress of students and lecturers on the basis of that development, he asserted, positing: “This [development of critical thinking and problem solving skills] is partially the reason why our graduates find favour with the private sector and other organisations.”

That some of the ICT students go on immediately after graduation to pursue post-graduate studies abroad is “obvious” testimony to the quality of training the department provides, Singh stressed.

“We set reasonably high standards for our students, and we work together with our students to attain those standards,” Singh said, declaring: “As far as our students are willing to go, we are ready to take them!”

Private sector needs

Singh observed that it is often being said that there is a “disconnect” between the skills training the university provides and what firms require. He warned that, that notion may be a reflection of “a simplistic approach to a very complex issue”; and advised that, in a globalised and dynamic business environment, the provision of specific skills training “is very limiting for students, organisations, and everyone else.”

He explained: “While, in the short-term, an organisation may benefit from specialised training; when things change, a graduate who is not educated in fundamental critical thinking and problem solving skills will struggle to adjust to changing environments, and will pose a constant challenge for employers.”

But while many employers “expect instant returns from fresh graduates”, Singh believes that a graduate who is sufficiently educated, instead of being “trained”, will adapt to any technology “if they are allowed some space.”

He ventured that the fundamental question is not what the private sector wants, but “what is the role of the University of Guyana in the context of national development?”

Job prospects

According to Singh, computer science graduates are “more likely than [those from] most other domains” to find a job after they graduate, or even before.

“This will continue to be so for many years because of the emerging interdisciplinary nature of the field,” he predicted.

Singh lamented the excessive number of computer science graduates who migrate. He said, “This creates a problem for technology entrepreneurship,” and insists that the country needs technology entrepreneurs if it is “to shift the producer-consumer balance” and become more a producer of technology than a consumer.
 
“To produce more technology, we need more skills, and this will create a further demand for skills,” he emphasised.