Emphasis on Computer Programming Education Gathers Steam in France and Abroad

Students learn computer programming at a school Berlin, Germany. Photo: CayCee for flickr.

Students learn computer programming at a school in Berlin, Germany. Photo: CayCee for flickr.

As part of a global trend in the growing importance of the tech sector, France, along with many other European nations, is pushing for the inclusion of computer programming courses in public schools. This education, they argue, is necessary to obtain the jobs of the future, and necessary for young students to stay competitive in a fast-paced, technology driven world.

“IT shapes the modern world,” voiced Gérard Berry, professor and academic at the College of France in a statement for LeMonde. “We must break the boundary between those who are able to create, and those who remain consumers of the screen.”

The value and inclusion of informational sciences in school curricula has seen a massive spike over the past two years, both in France and abroad. The UK is on the verge of launching a coding curriculum this coming September, targeted at students aged 5-16 years old.

Baltic and Scandinavian countries, who have taught computer programming classes for years, are providing the European Commission with an inventory of best practices, to be published and distributed to countries looking at implementing similar initiatives.

In the United States, school districts are joining the movement in bits and pieces, though the push for coding education has gained national attention and intense parental support. A New York Times article published on May 10spoke to the growing number of computer science curricula offered in the country’s tech hubs, most notably in schools districts within the Bay Area’s Silicon Valley, New York, and Chicago. “Coding” is slowing being rebranded, moving from a sideline activity to a core course that parents and educators value for its marketability.

A similar trend can be seen among French parents, 87% of whom support the implementation of computer programming languages in schools, according to the independent French research syndicate BVA.

In France, the debate over the formalized instruction of computer programming has taken on a highly political nature, in part due to the close relationship between the federal government and public schools jurisdiction. In comparison, the American movement has largely been driven by the wealthy computer industry and tech entrepreneurs, who have funded numerous after school programs, online tutorials, and interactive games to promote coding to kids.

President François Hollande himself has taken an open stance in support of coding education, speaking at the opening of the US-France Tech Hub in San Francisco in February. The President argued that the French “don’t have enough youth working towards jobs of the future,” noting the root for change lies within “coding at school.” He went on to announce plans to include computer programming classes at the middle school level, and to commence teacher training in these technologies.

The Secretary of State for the Digital Economy, Axelle Lemaire, has similarly voiced that in her opinion, it is important that “coding is taught at primary school, because it is a real tool for autonomy in life.”

Despite these bold statements, expansion of coding education in France seems to have slowed. Today, only a few students in France have access to computational science course, known in France as “informatique et sciences du numérique” (ISN).

Like the British program, the test curriculum was originally intended for extension to the general student body in September, upon the return to school. However, the program’s growth was postponed, reportedly due to further clarification of the curriculum’s content and goals.

Others speculate that the program was delayed due to an already alarming lack in public school math teachers, from which many of the coding instructors would be drawn.

Despite these setbacks, there is no doubt that both France and the United States are seeing an drive towards youth education in computer sciences, led by the combined support of parents, the tech industry, government, and the schools. Whether or not this trend will translate to jobs and opportunities for students down the road remains to be seen. But for now, both French and American schools are concentrating on the same language instruction—that of computers.

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