Bebras is the non-school activity in Informatics education with the largest audience. The participants are usually supervised by teachers who may integrate the challenge in their teaching activities. It is performed at schools using computers.
Bebras is an international initiative whose goal is to promote Informatics (or Computer Science, or Computing) and Computational Thinking especially among teachers and pupils of all ages, but also to the public at large by extent. The big challenge of Bebras is to organise easily accessible and highly motivating online challenge in many countries.
The challenge are made of a set of short questions called Bebras tasks. These tasks can be answered without prior knowledge about Informatics, but are clearly related to Informatics concepts. To solve those tasks, pupils are required to think in and about information, discrete structures, computation, data processing, but they also must use algorithmic concepts. Each Bebras task can both demonstrate an aspect of Informatics and test the talent of the participant, regarding Informatics.
The Bebras initiative contains two main events: 1) An International Workshop that takes place in May-June is organised to develop new tasks 2) and National Challenge are organised at the same time in autumn in all the countries that joined Bebras (named the Bebras countries), usually the second or third week of November (named the Bebras week). A lot of additional activities take place around those two main events. Some countries have a second round for the Bebras challenge. There are also more activities all along the year within countries: participants awarding events, seminars for teachers who introduce students with Informatics concepts, summer camps, collecting data and developing research papers, etc.
It is clear that, in addition to the challenge targeted to young pupils, the Bebras initiative is also to reach a lot of other people, with the same goal. Computers and other technological devices being ubiquitous nowadays, it is important to make the public aware of Informatics, not only as a technology but also as the science to educate them and make their experience with technology better.
The idea of Bebras was born in Lithuania, by Prof. Valentina Dagiene from University of Vilnius. Bebras is the Lithuanian word for “beaver”. The thought rushed into head during the travel around Finland in 2003 and discussions about how we could attract pupils to learn informatics. The activity of beavers on strands was so noticeable, that it suggested the symbol of the challenge… Beavers look like persistent stickers who endeavour for perfection in their field of activities and beaver away to reach the target. Their everyday job seems to be a trial: the one who pulls down more trees will stem more streams... Therefore, our competition was named after the hard-working, intelligent, and lively beaver.
The first Bebras challenge was organised in Lithuania in 2004. The Bebras challenge has quickly spread across the world and 2012 more than 500.000 students participated. Bebras is the non-school activity in Informatics education with the largest audience.
One of Valentina Dagiene’s goals was to establish Bebras as an international initiative on Informatics at schools. Since its beginnings, several European countries have joined Bebras: Estonia, Germany, The Netherlands, and Poland were the firsts to join in 2006. In 2007, Austria, Latvia, and Slovakia organised their first Bebras challenges, while Czech Republic and Ukraine started their challenges in 2008. In 2009, Italy joined Bebras, and 2010 saw first Bebras challenges in Finland and Switzerland. In 2011, France, Hungary, and Slovenia jumped in, and Japan saw the first non-European Bebras challenge; also trial challenges were run in Belgium, Canada, Cyprus, Israel, and Spain. In 2012 more countries joined Bebras community: Bulgaria, Sweden, and Taiwan.
The first Bebras challenge
The history of Bebras challenge began on September 25, 2004, in Lithuania, when experimental trial, in which 779 school students participated, was held. Its aim was to check selected technologies of the challenge and to evaluate the level of complexity of the presented problems. After a month, on October 21, the first Lithuanian Bebras challenge took place. As many as 3470 pupils from 146 schools participated.
During the challenge, each participant has 45 minutes to solve 18 problems of various levels of complexity: 6 problems for 3 points, 6 – for 4 points, and 6 – for 5 points. Correct answer adds as many points as indicated to the problem, incorrect one – minuses 25% of the indicated points (i.e. – 0,75, – 1, and – 1,25 point, respectively), unanswered problems – 0 points. To avoid negative results, each participant must start having the amount of points equal to the total number of the problems (e.g. 18 points in the Bebras-2004).
Each group was given two hours to perform the challenge, collect the results, and send them to the organisers. Preliminary results were calculated and announced the next day. All participants of the challenge, as well as local organisers, received certificates of thanks from Bebras Organizing Committee. Winners of every age group, as well as the other prizewinners of each class, were awarded with Bebras diplomas and valuable prizes established by sponsors.
For the first challenge the competition documents were published in PDF format, taking into account that PDF is universal file format that preserves fonts, images, graphics, and layout of any source document, regardless of the application or platform used to create it.
The local organizer had to download from the official Bebras site (www.bebras.lt) the software (Acrobat Reader 5.0 CE with some extra programs for testing computers and collecting results) and PDF registration form (its aim was to collect the basic information about the participants: contacts, OS, number of students and computers involved). Filled in forms had to be uploaded to the server of the National Examination Centre, which organised collection and preliminary processing of the results. One week before the challenge, local organisers could download the packages of problems for each group.
On the day of challenge, at fixed time known in advance, the Bebras site reveals the passwords for opening of the problems. The challenge starts when the first problem is opened and ends when the participant pushes the “Exit” button or when time allowed for solution expires. The program forms the coded answer file. The local organiser must collect these files (via local network or manually) and then upload them to the server of the National Examination Centre. When the answers are collected, the program investigates them, calculates the results, sorts them according to schools, regions, age groups, etc.