France to offer programming in elementary school

Beginning this fall, French primary school students will have the option of learning computer science

Picture of a French schoolImage credit: flickr/Ernst Moeksis (license)
French primary schools will soon offer programming courses to students

The French are known for lots of things, such as their love of good food, fine wine and great art. It appears now that, if the government has its way, the French will soon also be known for something else: their computer programming prowess.

France’s 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. 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 that programming 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.

Some questions as to how this will work remain to be answered. For example, who will teach the courses? Hamon suggested that some, like math teachers, will be more naturally inclined than others. He also said that 9,000 French schools that currently do not have broadband access will have it by September. Also, Hamon gave no specifics about the actual curriculum, like what languages would be taught.

France is just the latest in a line of countries that are encouraging or even requiring that students as young as those in elementary school learn programming. Here are some examples of other countries that have already implemented or will soon implement such programs.

  • In 2012, Estonia launched ProgeTiiger, a pilot program to teach programming to all students, from grades 1 through 12. The program was made available to all public schools in 2013, though is seems that many schools have not yet opted in.

  • Starting in the fall of 2014, public school students in the United Kingdom will be required to learn coding at age 5 and programming languages at age 11.

  • 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.

  • 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.

Here in the United States, efforts have also been made to make computer programming part of the core curriculum, such as the Computer Science Education Act. Versions of the bill, which seeks to amend the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) to make computer science a core subject, have been introduced in both the House (H.R. 2536) and the Senate (S. 1407). Proponents may not want to get their hopes up, though, since previous versions of the bill have failed to make it out of committee.

Regardless, it seems that the day is coming when computer programming will become as regular a part of the elementary school day as kickball and tater tots - or maybe, in France’s case, soccer and baguettes.

Read more of Phil Johnson's #Tech blog and follow the latest IT news at ITworld. Follow Phil on Twitter at @itwphiljohnson. For the latest IT news, analysis and how-tos, follow ITworld on Twitter and Facebook.

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