This article is part of our special report EU Code Week 2015.
SPECIAL REPORT / A majority of member states have introduced coding classes to their educational curriculums, as education ministries across Europe increasingly view computer skills as essential to developing key “21st century competences”.
“Today, 90% of all jobs are expected to require at least a basic level of ICT skills,” said Marianne Thyssen, the EU Commissioner in charge of Employment, Social Affairs, Skills and Labour Mobility.
“Stepping up Europe’s digital skills will be part of the EU-wide Skills Agenda I will present next year,” Thyssen announced on Twitter, using the #CodeEU hashtag.
EU countries seem to have heard the message. Most education ministries have now added coding classes and computer science to their school curricula, according to a report published today (12 October) by European Schoolnet, a non-profit organisation bringing together 31 European Ministries of Education.
Computer programming and coding – Priorities, school curricula and initiatives across Europe, provides an overview of coding initiatives across Europe.
Since the first report was published in 2014, new countries have joined the trend, with Spain and France formally introducing coding in their school curricula. Meanwhile, the Czech Republic, Poland, Lithuania and Malta have made existing coding classes a more integral part of their teaching programmes or are planning to do so.
In total, 15 EU countries have integrated coding in their curricula, whether at national, regional or local level – Austria, Bulgaria, the Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, France, Hungary, Ireland, Lithuania, Malta, Spain, Poland, Portugal, Slovakia and the UK.
And the trend is expected to continue. Coding will become part of the core curriculum in Finland by 2016, while the Flanders region in Belgium is currently debating the issue. At primary level, coding is already being taught in Estonia, France, Israel, Spain, Slovakia and England. And Flanders, Finland, Poland and Portugal are expected to follow by next year .
Coding is even a compulsory part of the programme for specific levels of education, mainly as part of computer courses in Bulgaria, the Czech Republic, Denmark, Portugal, Slovakia, Spain, and the UK. In Denmark, basic programming knowledge is a compulsory part of physics, chemistry and maths curricula. Slovakia takes it a step further, integrating coding at all levels of school education as a compulsory element.
Looming shortage in IT-skilled labour
Katja Engelhardt, one of the authors of the report together with Anja Balanskat, told EURACTIV that the European Schoolnet expects coding to remain high on the education agenda beyond the short term. She says education authorities now need to tackle pedagogical questions such as how to effectively design the learning process and assess coding skills.
“We need more concrete insights into the actual integration and real uptake of coding in schools, as well as educational practices related to it,” Engelhardt said.
The rationale for introducing coding classes at school is motivated in part by a looming shortage in IT-skilled labour force across Europe.
“In five years’ time, 825,000 jobs may be unfilled, simply because employers cannot find people with the right digital skills,” said Günther Oettinger, the EU Commissioner in charge of the Digital Economy and Society. “The answer is glaringly simple, Europe needs to get serious about digital skills, for each and every person, and each and every business to thrive in our digital economy and society,” he wrote on his blog.
But while attracting more students to computer sciences is a rationale for the 11 countries surveyed in the European Schoolnet report, the aim of fostering employability in the sector is key for only eight countries.
21st century skills
This is because coding has started to leave the realm of computer geeks to enter the mainstream. In fact, basic coding skills are increasingly seen as a fundamental skill for all students, not just computer scientists.
“Computational thinking is typically associated with coding and computer programming, but is more than that, involving solving problems, designing systems, and understanding human behaviour,” acccording to the European Schoolnet report. They now form part of so-called “21st century skills”, like problem-solving and logical thinking.
For Engelhardt, Europeans should now try to determine the computational skills every student should acquire in order to be prepared for tomorrow’s digital world. One key challenge she emphasises is how to make coding more exciting for students, especially girls.
Gifted students also need to be supported in pursuing a career in computational science with personalised learning, she adds. Successful models could also be emulated for providing teachers with appropriate training, she says. At the moment, many competitions are offered in several European countries as a way of rewarding excellence in the area, but students with a general interest should also be attracted by providing more general courses, according to European Schoolnet.
What the decisive factors are for young people to opt for scientific careers in computer science also needs to be studied.
“The role of formal qualifications or certifications that can be obtained during school, e.g. the offer of specific computer science school-leaving exams, might play a role for students to continue with higher studies,” European Schoolnet stated in the report.