Computer programming and coding in schools— a hype in education or an emerging trend?

by Anja Balanskat Senior Analyst and Project Manager Creative Classrooms Lab

There are a growing number of countries in Europe and internationally, which refocus their ICT curricula on developing students’ computer programming and coding skills and introduce this topic in national, regional or school curricula. …And this for very young learners starting already in the last year of kindergarten or in primary schools and in many cases as a requirement.

European Schoolnet, which is also supporting  the organisation of the Microsoft coding competition for schools, the Kodu Kup Europe, will in the coming months feature recent developments in this area and currently gathers further information from its Ministries of Education to obtain a more detailed picture of how coding or programming is or will be integrated in school curricula across Europe. We will also look into how teacher training and educational resources are provided in line with such new requirements. On 25 June, European Schoolnet already organised a workshop on how to connect and upscale coding. In this first blog entry I give a short overview of what we already know about this topic from the country reports of ICT in education published yearly by European Schoolnet and information published in some recent news articles.

Which countries explicitly have integrated or will integrate coding or programming in school curricula?

The UK is an exemplary case as it is one of the first European countries to mandate computer programming in its primary and secondary schools from September 2014 onwards. Students will start learning to write code when they enter school at 5 years old until they finish at the age of 16. For example, by the end of key stage one (age 7) students will be able to create and debug simple programs, understand algorithms and how they are implemented as programs on digital devices and that programs execute by following precise and unambiguous instructions.

Already in 2012 Estonia launched ProgeTiiger (a division of the Tiger Leap foundation), which is a pilot program to teach programming to all students, from grades 1 until 12. ProgeTiiger is funded by the government and volunteer teachers that are interested in learning coding receive training and then teach the programming skills they learned. Children from 6 years onwards will have coding/programming as part of the curriculum and 60 teachers have been trained so far to teach the first four year groups.

Finland will require all primary school students to learn programming, starting in the fall of 2016. 1st and 2nd grade students will learn the basics of giving simple commands, while 3rd through 6th graders will learn visual programming and 7th through 9th graders will be taught a programming language.

In France the Minister of National Education, Benoît Hamon, said in a recent interview with Le Journal du Dimanche that programming courses will be offered to primary school students starting this fall 2014. The courses, which will be optional and offered during extracurricular time, will teach students programming basics and how to create simple applications. Hamon also expressed a desire for programming to be offered at the secondary school level. The goal, he said, is to give French students the keys to thrive in a connected world and to encourage them go into technical vocations.

In Greece, under the “Digital School Strategy” framework, a number of special actions/projects are in progress in order to obtain better integration of the most recent ICT developments in the curriculum. The new curriculum for the course of Computer Science and Information Technology (ICT) in compulsory education aims to develop the necessary digital competences (i.e. knowledge, skills and attitudes related to ICT) in order to enhance students’ learning capabilities, continuous and lifelong development and ultimately their participation in the society. For this purpose, the new curriculum is divided into four interdependent components:

  1. ICT as a scientific and technological tool.
  2. ICT as a learning-cognitive tool.
  3. ICT as a problem solving methodology.
  4. ICT as a social phenomenon.

In lower secondary education, ICT has been introduced as a subject that is taught once a week by a specialist IT teacher. During the first two years of lower secondary education pupils get to know the basic operations of a computer, its peripheral devices and the operating system. At the same time, they develop their skills and abilities as regards software programs covering graphics, word processing, spreadsheets, presentations and databases. In the third year (grade 9), pupils are introduced to programming through the use of the LOGO language and they work on team projects, using the Office software package productivity tools they were taught in the previous years.

In Switzerland, Prof Juraj Hromkovic from the federal polytechnic university of Zürich offers a course on coding in primary schools which is already adopted in around 40 schools in the German speaking cantons. The introduction of the new curriculum “Lehrplan 21” for the German speaking Cantons in 2013 was widely discussed by expert groups. In a previous version of the plan, it was up to the teachers if and how they integrate ICT, which was strongly criticised by ICT related interest groups, which asked for a separate ICT subject. In a compromise the plan now foresees to teach ICT and media education in 3 modules thereby fixing the number of hours to be taught and the learning objectives. From grade 3 onwards children in primary education will have one hour of ICT and media education and two hours in secondary education. The plan covers 3 areas to be tackled:

  • ICT: basics of programming
  • Media education: use of mass and new media
  • ICT user competencies (e.g. knowledge of word, excel, ..)

Internationally, Australia has been in the process of reworking its national curriculum to require children to learn programming concepts beginning in kindergarten and how to write computer code beginning in year 3. Whether coding or programming can be actually considered as a new trend in school curricula and is taught in more than the 6 European countries mentioned above, we will only know after an analysis of the results of our survey with ministries. In other European countries such as Cyprus, the Czech Republic, Germany (Bavaria), France, Hungary, Israel, Italy, Lithuania and Spain ICT or computer science is taught as a separate subject …and therefore potentially coding and programming is part of the programme likewise.

The survey results will be highlighted on the observatory blog in October 2014. Meanwhile, in another blog entry I will focus on the question why students should actually learn coding or programming, e.g. the educational benefits it can bring about and look at some interesting examples of practice already happening in schools.

Further reading: 

Country reports on ICT in education, EUN, 2013

UK 

Teaching our children to code: a quiet revolution, 4 November 2013, The Telegraph              

Coding in schools: A is for algorithm, 26 November 2014, The Economist

Estonia

AAAS Serves: The Proge Tiiger initiative, 25 March 2013, AAAS MemberCentral                         

How Estonia became E-stonia, 16 May 2013, BBC News

Switzerland

Erziehungsdirektoren präsentieren Lehrplan 21, 28 June 2013, Tages Anzeiger

Education: sus à l’analphabétisme informatique!, 22 August 2013, L’Hebdo

Germany 

Das digitale Einmaleins, 11 January 2013, Zeit Online

France

France to offer programming in elementary school, 16 July 2014, IT world

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