A new class, offering an intro to quantum computing, is poised to alter Ontario’s high school science curriculum. Image credit: UBC Geering Up/Haris Amiri, 2019.

Ontario high school students are learning about quantum computing through a unique program developed by Quantum BC’s Diversifying Talent in Quantum Computing and UBC Geering Up. The class. supported by the University of Ottawa, builds on a framework structured by graduate student Parham Pashaei (PI: Lukas Chrostowski) last year.

Students in Ontario can enroll in the course and earn credit toward their science requirement through the University of Ottawa’s Faculty of Engineering Secondary School. The course was designed by the UBC Geering Up team, who worked with teachers and subject matter experts in curriculum design to develop lessons that are both educationally stimulating and fit within existing learning modules. For the program to be successful and meaningful to students, the team has ensured that the program integrates existing content in physics, math, and computer science, making the introduction of key concepts in quantum computing organic within existing programs. An earlier version of the class, Masterclass Level 1 and 2, piloted in January 2021 and engaged a cohort of 110 students, half of whom were girls

The program introduces students to topics that include the fundamentals of classical and quantum computing, circuit design, and programming. It is currently running as a pilot project, and Ella Meyer, Quantum Computing Outreach Program Coordinator, hopes that it will become part of the Ontario high school curriculum—and eventually, part of British Columbia’s (BC’s) as well.

“Our long-term goal is to take the successes and learning experiences of this pilot and adapt them so that they fit within Ontario and BC high school curricula,” said Meyer.

Quantum education will be critical for this generation of students
Cissy Suen, a graduate student in the International PhD Program in Quantum Materials pictured at QMI at UBC.

Cissy Suen. Image credit: Paul Joseph/UBC.

According to Cissy Suen, a graduate student in the International PhD in Quantum Materials, we’re at a moment in the development of quantum technology where there is an “understanding gap” between the scientists engaged in research and the business community looking to move from research to commercialization.

“As this sector grows, a fundamental issue known as the ‘quantum bottleneck’ looms large over progress,” Suen wrote in a 2021 Toronto Star editorial. “On one side, there are researchers who have related degrees and vast amounts of technical knowledge, but lack business experience. On the other side, there are investors and interested parties who lack the academic knowledge. This creates the perfect recipe for miscommunication, misinformation and missed opportunities.”

Creating opportunities for kids to develop literacy in quantum science will only help them as the technology evolves faster than school curricula.

“Quantum technologies are established as one of the primary emerging technologies of our time. That means there’s still a lot we don’t understand about what quantum tech can do or where it can go,” said Suen. “Educating our children early (in the same way that we should have incorporated programming into our curriculum years ago) will be key to ensuring that Canada remains competitive in the field and that Canadians continue to be well-informed about potentially society-changing technologies.”

“Incorporating quantum is not too difficult—quantum is about thinking in a different way, not necessarily a new way and many of the foundations of quantum mechanics are already taught in high school,” said Suen.

Making quantum education work for teachers

“It’s important that we make quantum computing curriculum work for teachers,” said Meyer, who is working with Diversifying Talent in Quantum Computing to develop training for teachers. “We don’t want to ask them to try to fit in anything new—we’re really looking to find ways to add these lessons to existing modules in related subject areas.”

For now, the class is offering a first look at how quantum computing education could work for Canadian students.

“We’re working closely with teachers in Ottawa to make these lessons applicable to other topics students are learning,” said Meyer. “Quantum computing is going to impact many different areas of science and technology, so building these ideas into existing lesson plans will not require teachers to design new course content, and it will also make the concepts meaningful for students.”