Reading, writing and refactoring: How 7 forward-thinking countries are teaching kids to code

The importance of knowing how to program is reflected in the increasing number of countries teaching computer science in elementary school

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Here in the U.S., kids are either already back in school for a new academic year or soon will be. Most American students will continue to focus on the traditional three Rs (reading, writing and arithmetic), while their counterparts in some other countries will also be learning a fourth R: refactoring, as in programming code. While efforts are being made to bring computer science into American classrooms (e.g., Code.org, the proposed Computer Science Education Act), other governments have moved more aggressively and made it a core subject in their national curriculums, starting in primary school. Here are 7 forward-thinking countries that are now, or will soon be, teaching elementary school students how to code.

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France

Starting in the fall of 2014, France will begin offering programming courses to primary school students. The classes, which will be optional and offered during extracurricular time, will teach students programming basics and how to create simple applications. In announcing the program, France’s Minister of National Education Benoît Hamon also expressed a desire to offer programming classes at the secondary school level and said the goal is to give French students the keys to thrive in a connected world and to encourage them go into technical vocations.

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Estonia

In 2012, Estonia launched ProgeTiiger, a program aimed at eventually teaching programming to all students, from grades 1 through 12. The program was first rolled out to elementary school students at a group of 20 pilot schools. Beginning in the first grade, students are taught logic concepts and then exposed to programming through Logo and Scratch. It’s not surprising that Estonia is at the forefront of teaching children as young as 7 to program, since Estonians vote and pay taxes online, all Estonian schools have been online since the late 1990s and it’s the country where Skype was born.

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Finland

Earlier this year, Finland’s Minister of Education and Science, Krista Kiuru announced that programming will be introduced to the national primary school curriculum beginning in the fall of 2016. First and second grade students will not be taught a coding language, but instead will learn how to give precise, unambiguous commands to another person, much like programming requires. Students in grades 3 through 6 will learn how work with a visual programming language, such as Scratch. Finally, students in grades 7 through 9 will learn a real programming language (still to be determined).

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United Kingdom

Starting in the fall of 2014, all public school students in the United Kingdom will be required to learn programming. Students will learn how to create simple programs starting at age 5, while at age 11 they will learn about algorithms and at least two programming languages. The new curriculum replaces an older program which focused on basic computer literacy and which students felt had become boring. and irrelevant. The new programming requirement is being introduced as part of the UK’s Year of Code, a series of events which runs through 2014 meant to foster interest in computer science.

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Credit: flickr/Tim
Australia

Australia’s Curriculum, Assessment and Reporting Authority (ACARA) published a new, recommended curriculum earlier this year which will provide students a foundation in digital technologies, including programming. Under this plan, beginning in year 3, students will learn to represent data, define problems and implement solutions by writing code using visual programs. Beginning in year 7 they will learn a general programming language and, in years 9 and 10, object oriented languages. It is ultimately up to individual states and territories whether they will implement ACARA’s Digital Technologies curriculum.

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Poland

Poland rolled out a pilot program called “Masters of Coding” in September, 2013 aimed at teaching primary school children how to program. Currently, schools apply to participate in the program and are required to already have at least two teachers willing to be trained and computer hardware already in place.  In the first year, over 6,000 children at 120 schools took part in the program, in which students in grades 4 through 6 learn the Scratch programming language. By the end of 2015, organizers hope that at least 50,000 students will be participating.

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South Korea

South Korea’s Ministry of Education announced a plan this summer to make instruction in software development part of the national curriculum. As in other countries, the curriculum will be rolled out in phases. It will first become a required subject for middle schools students next year, while elementary school students will be required to learn programming beginning in 2017. In 2018, programming will become offered as electives to high school students. Programming may also eventually become part of the national college entrance exam.