Early digital education: Learning to program at primary school

Nicolas Meudt Autor, Hemd & Hoodie

Here’s a thing to marvel at: In Sweden, programming will be included on the curriculum in the next school year — even for children in class one.

For some people, programming is a secret art performed by skilled technicians, and they are happy not to have to do it. Others view programming as a vital skill in the digital world that should be passed on to children as early as when they are in kindergarten. For example, entrepreneur Frank Thelen, known to many Germans as the juror in the German TV show “Die Höhle der Löwen”, believes that programming has become the most important foreign language to learn. “Children who do not know how to program now are the illiterate of the future,” says Thelen.

In fact, in several countries such as Estonia, Finland and the United Kingdom, the development of digital skills has long been on the curriculum for children of primary school age and upwards. In these countries, the subject of “Computing” is deliberately being used to prepare the new generation for the future. Over in Sweden, the government has now put forward a new curriculum that includes programming, which in the future will be taught to children starting from class one.

No programming, no future

Sweden’s education system has an excellent reputation around the world. It is free and considered to be social and innovative. Scientists in Sweden have long been studying the possibility of using digital media to support playful learning. It is no coincidence that the popular game Minecraft, in which young gamers construct a 3D world from cube-shaped blocks, originated from Sweden.

With its blocky, pixelated imagery, Minecraft is often described a kind of digital Lego game.

Nevertheless, the Swedish Minister for Education, Gustav Fridolin, stated on the online platform ComputerSweden that “We need more programmers. Programming is a skill that will be increasingly required in workplaces in the future and is having in increasing impact on our lives.” Programming is intended to be initially introduced as part of maths and technology lessons. In this way, children can learn to solve algebra using code, for example.

Initial pilot projects also conducted in Germany

However, technology-oriented education should not only equip children for the workplace — it should also better prepare them for everyday life. For example, the curriculum also includes lessons that teach children to distinguish between reliable and unreliable sources in the Internet. This will enable them to better recognize fake news and learn how to make independent, well-founded decisions. It will be some time before this curriculum is used in Germany. However, initial pilot projects are already underway.

Initial pilot projects are also being conducted in Germany in which children are being taught the basics of programming.

In Rhineland-Palatinate, the state program “Medienkompetenz macht Schule” (Media literacy at school) aims to pioneer the integration of digital technology in school lessons. The national program “Code your Life” offers young children between 10 and 14 years old an entertaining way to learn to program at school. “Of course, not every participant has to become a developer,” says Jutta Schneider, who helped set up the project. However, it is important that children understand how to write algorithms and thus gain basic programming knowledge.

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