In an Olympic sport of coding, which country would win gold?
If there had been an event in coding at this year’s Olympics, China would take home the gold, with Russia nipping at its heels for the silver and Poland taking the bronze, so says competitive programming company HackerRank.
“Chinese programmers outscore all other countries in mathematics, functional programming, and data structures challenges, while Russians dominate in algorithms, the most popular and most competitive arena,” says Ritika Trikha of HackerRank, a website which offers free competitive programming challenges, serves as a tech recruiter for companies looking for skilled developers and boasts an online community of over one million programmers. The international ranking is based on combined results from tens of thousands of HackerRank’s coding challenges, with developers ranked on a combination of coding accuracy and speed.
“While the United States and India provide the majority of competitors on HackerRank, they only manage to rank 28th and 31st,” says Trikha. Canada placed 21st out of 50 countries, while Nigeria, Sri Lanka and Pakistan came in at the bottom of the ranking.
The results mirror those from other worldwide programming and educational rankings in mathematics and science such as the International Olympiad in Informatics and the Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA). The IOI, recently held in Kazan, Russia, regularly features Chinese and Russian programmers and problem-solvers at the top of its leader board. And PISA, a ranking produced by the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), also has Chinese and Asian students very high on listings. Among the top performers from 65 participating countries in PISA 2012, for example, were Shanghai, Singapore, Hong Kong, Taiwan and Japan. (Canadian students came in a respectable ninth place.)
Vivek Ravisankar, co-founder and chief executive of HackerRank, believes that a high output of world class coders requires educational systems which put a priority on math and computer science from an early age. Both Russia and China have well-developed, deep programming cultures because of their emphasis on skill- and knowledge-building right from the start of the educational process. “There’s more of a culture of coding and practicing math-related subjects at a much, much earlier age in these countries,” said Ravisankar.
A World Bank report entitled, “How Shanghai Does It,” argues that the success of the city’s educational system is rooted in strong and effective educational policy and a culture that respects and supports those in teaching profession. “One of the most impressive aspects of Shanghai’s education system is the way it grooms, supports, and manages teachers, who are central to any effort to raise the education quality in schools,” said Xiaoyan Liang, the report’s lead author. The report reveals that teachers in Shanghai spend only a third of their time teaching in the classroom and the rest prepping lessons and grading but also observing other teachers, mentoring and engaging in professional development.
“The reason the teaching profession is regarded with a lot of respect in Shanghai is not just because teachers earn reasonable, stable salaries—it is also because of how well they teach. They are true professionals,” says Liang.