Teachers urged to get on board with coding


More EU education ministries are considering introducing coding as part of the curriculum in schools. [Ed Yourdon/Flickr]

This article is part of our special report EU Code Week 2014.

SPECIAL REPORT: Computer coding classes at primary school have to be taught in a more playful way than reading, writing and maths, experts say. 

Neelie Kroes, the Dutch EU Commissioner for the Digital Agenda, has called for mandatory coding classes in primary school curricula.

Pupils start learning coding as early as age five in some EU countries but, according to Kroes, one of the future challenges will be to “really get teachers onboard as well”.

Even though children are ready to learn coding at an early age in much the same way they do for math or reading, their teachers are often unable to keep up, she said.

“That’s is something to worry about,” the Commissioner said at the launch of the European Coding Initiative in Brussels on Tuesday (14 October). 

“But then I hope that kids will teach teachers because they won’t wait until the teacher is ready.”

The European Coding Initiative aims to gather stakeholders to promote coding in all levels of education. Anja Balanskat, senior analyst and project manger at the European Schoolnet, a partnership of European Ministries of Education, agreed with Kroes, stating that one of the future challenges for coding in schools will be to continuously support teachers.

Liam Ryan, managing director for SAP Labs, offered a helping hand by stating that industry can play a part in training new teachers.

“Training is what we do as a company already in training our employees for up to two years and they are meant to be trainers as well. A number of our employees are willing to volunteer and help coding clubs and within the educational system.”

Creating the coding environment

Mary Moloney, CEO of CoderDojo, a volunteer-led free coding club for young people, said that in order to get pupils engaged, coding needs to have an element of fun despite adding it to a curriculum-based model.

“What you are trying to do is empower children to learn in their own way. It does feel to them like playing. They are creating things that they are in charge of. We should have a learning environment where we are not forcing what the output or outcome needs to be because children will create amazing and wonderful things in their own environment,” Moloney said.

The CEO of CoderDojo added that the computer club, which has taught so far 20,000 children across Europe how to code, has even witnessed children age 13-14 create full software solutions for enterprises and businesses.

Oystein Imsen, a lecturer and Norwegian Code Week ambassador, said that coding doesn’t fit into the current curriculum model. He opposed the current way of governing teaching through test results and assessing skills that ‘belong to the old world’.

“We can either go for skills that PISA studies measure, or we can go for the 21st century skills which I think would be a good idea,” Imsen said.

Manuel Kohnstamm, senior vice president and chief policy officer at Liberty Global, also argued that while coding should be treated as a language and therefore taught at a very early age in order to make pupils fluent, an informal learning environment would be crucial.

“If you put it in a school curriculum it could have some benefits, but it could also be putting some children off,” Kohnstamm said.

Emil Valdelin, public policy manager at Facebook, was supportive of the initiative. "Facebook has teamed up with EU Code Week to promote the value of coding and its significant role in an increasingly digitalised world. In order to remain competitive, the EU needs a workforce with developed digital skills, and this needs to begin at an early age. We hope that eu.code.org will give teachers, children and anyone else interested in coding the right skills for the future."

Europe Code Week raises awareness about a skill that will only become more influential as time passes. 

Coding is the language of computers – learn to write it and you will be able to create software, websites, and apps.

It could even help to reduce the EU's stubbornly high unemployment figures and get it back on the growth track.

>> Read the EURACTIV special report on coding this week to learn more

  • 11-17 Oct.: EU Code Week

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