France Joins Countries Offering Programming Classes to Kids

France is planning on offering computer programming classes to elementary school children. In a recent interview with Le Journal du Dimanche, France’s Minister of National Education, Benoit Hamon, reported that the country plans on offering programming courses in primary schools beginning this fall.

While the traditional skills of reading, writing, and maths remain a priority, “schools cannot ignore the importance of digital”, Harmon told the paper. “The question is no longer about whether children need to learn about IT and programming, but about how, in what circumstances, and at what stage of the curriculum they should do so,” he said.

The courses will be optional, with the intention of giving children the skills they need to succeed from an early age while simultaneously promoting technical vocations.  Students will learn basic programming skills as well as how to create simple applications during extra-curricular time, writes Phil Johnson for IT World.

“It’s about giving everyone the skills necessary for our connected world,” Harmon said. “It’s not about making all schoolchildren into developers, but about finding talent and encouraging the right skills.”

Hamon hopes to continue this into secondary education settings.

Several other European countries already have computer programming courses in place at the elementary school level.  Estonia launched its pilot program ProgeTiger in 2012, making programming available to all students from grades 1 through 12.

Beginning this fall, the UK is requiring its students to learn coding at age 5 and programming at age 11.  According to Prime Minister David Cameron, a new curriculum is in the works that includes teaching children between 5-7 “what algorithms are” as well as how to “create and debug simple programs”.  Finland will begin a similar program in 2016.

The EU’s 28 education ministers received a letter from Commissioner for the Digital Agenda Neelie Kroes and Youth and Education Commisssioner Androulla Vasiliou, discussing the deep need for children to have the opportunity to learn basic coding skills from an early age.  While coding will also help with the job market, with 900,000 more ICT practitioners expected to be needed in Europe by 2020, it is not simply just about science, technology, engineering and math (STEM).

“Coding will also directly help students to develop transversal skills such as analytical thinking, problem solving, team working, and creativity. Starting early means that they will be more inclined to consider computer science studies and ICT related careers,” they wrote.

The US also has computer-programming courses in the works.  Nonprofit organization code.org is a free website that offers lessons in coding in an effort to promote computer science classes in school curriculum across the US.   Tech companies such as Microsoft and Facebook have put upwards of $10 million to the company.

The Computer Science Education Act, looking to make computer science a core subject, has been introduced to both the House and the Senate.  Previous versions have failed to go through, so it is unclear what the future holds for the bill.