Across the continent, pioneering teachers, curious children, and far-sighted decision-makers are slowly but surely changing the way we view the role of technology in education.
This shift is not just about getting more high-tech devices in schools – although integrating technology into the learning environment can encourage collaboration, creativity and greater student success, as shown in use of personalized devices to improve the speed of homework or the introduction of online exams. It’s also not just a matter of teaching every child to code.
What we are really beginning to see is a fundamental reassessment of why and how we must equip the next generation of Europeans with high digital skills.
Professor Simon Payton-Jones, chairman of the British group Computing at School (CAS), said it best when he highlighted that every child from primary school teaches science not because every child becomes a physicist or a chemist. This is because studying science teaches us vital facts about the world around us. The reason for teaching computer science to every child is the same. In an increasingly digital landscape, technology savvy people will be able to shape the world to their liking.
While coding and programming are important, making sure children acquire broader skills such as abstraction, modeling, design and analysis during computer science classes is even more important, especially in a context where often the greatest experts in the room are themselves. children; a generation that was baptized by “digital natives”. But this pseudonym can be misleading. Many twelve-year-olds can take advantage of one game console over another or list the features of their new smartphone, but few understand the technology behind these devices. As long as this is the case, children can only be consumers of technology, not their creators.
Integrate computer games, such as Minecraft, into classes previously taught anything, from English to geography, shows that there are opportunities to use technologies that children are already working with to stimulate the development of broader skills across the schedule. However, such one-off initiatives are too dependent on single people, be it a teacher who allows his students to use computer games in English lessons, or a school principal who sets up an after-school coding club.
Of course we need these freaks. Their enthusiasm, initiative and resourcefulness are the livelihood of European education systems. But we cannot count on them to improve the skills of a whole generation of European youth. For this to happen, we need to change the institutional attitude towards how we value computer science.
While this may seem like a daunting task, we know it can be done. Last September, after extensive consultations between politicians, teachers and the technology industry, England became one of three EU countries to introduce a compulsory curriculum for primary school enrollment; a curriculum strewn with references to “understanding and applying fundamental principles,” “analyzing problems in computational terms,” and “evaluating computational abstractions”. In short, the days of simple learning how to compile data in a spreadsheet are over; creative, collaborative and versatile computing thinking.
Other countries have followed or are following suit – last year Fr. European Schoolnet study found that 11 other EU member states are already integrating computer programming and coding into school curricula, and another 7 are planning to do so. But progress is still slow, and levels of concentration vary widely from one member state to another.
The immediate need for further action to improve this situation was revealed at the recent Latvian presidency Electronic skills for the job conference in Riga, which launched a campaign aimed at stimulating the creation of digital jobs needed to create a strong digital single market in Europe. Youth unemployment in the EU is still a shocking 21 percent, but thousands of vacancies remain unfilled. The most recent forecasts suggest a shortage of 825,000 ICT professionals until 2020. And that’s not even considering that nowadays 90% of all jobs in Europe require a certain level of digital skills.
Simply put, these figures show that at present we cannot give European youth the skills they need to succeed.
As the digitalisation of European society continues rapidly, those who do not have the skills needed by employers run the risk of being left behind. And as the European Commission implements its ambitious plan to create a digital single market that will promote Europe’s growth and competitiveness, neglecting the importance of digital skills for every European can have serious consequences for Europe’s long-term economic success.
Tomorrow’s leaders are today’s students. And if Europe’s future workforce needs to grow with a sufficient level of digital savvy, Europe’s educators need coordinated and consistent support. In the run-up to the introduction of the new English curriculum, two-thirds of teachers said they did not feel they had received sufficient government support to implement it. Lack of confidence is not due to a lack of enthusiasm – more than half of teachers are trained in technology at the time. To maintain this innate enthusiasm in a structured way, ESkills for Jobs rightly identified the improvement of continuous teacher training as key priority.
Industry plays a vital role in providing support where it is needed, whether it be providing teachers with experience and resources through European Coding Initiative or challenge students to test their programming skills in competitions such as Code Coop Europe. It is also important that industry and educators work to close the gap between education and employment. Recent report The Special Committee on Digital Skills of the House of Lords of the United Kingdom stressed that ensuring the prosperity of industry partnerships in education is an important part of “helping future workforce to adapt to the demands of the new digital world.”
Richard Riley was right when he said that “education should prepare young people for work that does not yet exist, using technologies that have not yet been invented to solve problems we do not know about.” But comprehensive learning does not begin or end in school. Millions of students around the world acquire essential life skills in and out of class, through extracurricular clubs and activities.
One such initiative CoderDojo, a global network of free programming clubs led by volunteers for youth. In less than 4 years, the CoderDojo movement has become a real phenomenon with more than 550 dojos in 57 countries. Each month, 30,000 children – or “ninjas” – are given the opportunity to learn and create technology in a safe environment, as well as truly immerse themselves in the world of coding and programming.
As European schools still lag behind in effective computer science courses, post-school activities such as CoderDojo are important for promoting digital know-how among young people, giving them skills they can return to the classroom and apply to wider learning. experiences. Microsoft has just announced that he will support CoderDojo Foundation through its YouthSpark initiative. The key part Microsoft YouthSpark, our nationwide initiative, which aims to create opportunities for 300 million young people worldwide, works with local nonprofits that understand the digital needs of their communities and want to help young people succeed. This is in line with the mission of CoderDojo, whose efforts around the world are shaping a new generation of digital natives who not only know how their devices work, but also develop them even better in the future.
Wider efforts to attract more children to computer science have not gone unnoticed. Be it clubs like CoderDojo that use children’s creativity, Debate on Europeefforts to have a broader conversation about the role of computer science in society or initiatives such as EU Code Week and forthcoming Girls in ICT day; all this is due to great passion, enthusiasm and devotion. But this must be combined with real, tangible policy changes. Both European and national politicians must commit to paying as much attention to computer science in schools as they do to reading, writing, mathematics or science. Industry, policymakers and educators need to create more connections to bridge the gap between education and work. And ICT competence should be seen as a core skill of every European.
Now coding can be cool, but making significant changes to the way we value technology in education is more than a passing fad. It is not just about transforming European classrooms; it is about the transformation of European society. When compulsory primary education was introduced in Europe, it was perceived as a turning point. Now we have the opportunity to make another transformative leap in preparing Europe’s children for the future – let’s not leave them in the past.