Future will be built by those who know how to code
Finland is among the first countries in the world to include programming in the country’s national curriculum. Coding is more and more seen as a civic skill that helps modern societies to prosper, writes Eeva Haaramo.
In the world today business, services, science, arts and entertainment are all in one way or another powered by computer code. Countries are waking up to the need for people to understand how the increasingly digitised world is constructed. In Finland, computer programming will be part of the national curriculum for 1st to 9th graders (ages 7 to 16) starting from 2016.
“The aim of basic education is to teach us general knowledge and programming has become part of that in the 21st century,” says Linda Liukas, co-writer of the new Koodi2016 (Code 2016, only in Finnish) report.
“Not everyone will become a coder, but everyone has the right to understand how it works. It’s like teaching kids biology: it doesn’t mean everyone will become a biologist.”
The independent report, released at the World Coding Championships in Helsinki last month and supported by the Finnish Innovation Fund Sitra, is meant as a free first-aid guide to Finnish educators and decision-makers who aren’t familiar with programming but are an integral part of making the new curriculum happen.
“We want to show people that teaching kids to code is not rocket science. It’s about teaching them computational thinking and problem-solving skills across disciplines,” Liukas explains.
Liukas and her co-writer Juhani Mykkänen believe that teaching programming to children doesn’t only give them a valuable skill set for the future, but also has wider benefits for society as a whole. It improves economic competitiveness and productivity, boosts creativity and creates equality.
“Coding is a tool that can be used almost everywhere, from heavy industry to healthcare and arts. It’s also a tool for self-expression,” says Liukas.
“Traditionally coding has been the pastime of a selective group of mathematically oriented people. Teaching children programming skills can inspire anyone to start coding and create interesting new things.”
Finland sets out to be the frontrunner in pedagogy
Finland is by no means the first country to see the value of programming skills for its future. In Estonia first graders have been coding their own computer games since 2013. This autumn the UK will implement a new subject of Computing which will teach programming to every child, starting at the age of five. Singapore, South Korea and the United States aren’t far behind in looking at ways to include coding in their basic education.
In Finland, programming will be part of mathematics and taught by class teachers at least during the first grades. It is the Finnish teacher education system that could give the country a competitive edge.
“For example in Singapore the problem is parents don’t value coding skills as they want their children to become bankers. In Britain, there isn’t one clear, centralised way to teach teachers new skills,” says Liukas.
“In Finland, we value engineering culture and we have a world-class education system that can push through educational changes. I believe we have great preconditions to teach programming and we could be the country that combines pedagogical and engineering skills in a new way.”
This sentiment is echoed by Linda Mannila whose PhD research at Åbo Akademi University focused on teaching programming to novices.
“The close collaboration between schools and Finnish universities helps us develop and empirically evaluate both training provided to teachers and teaching material to be used in class,” says Mannila.
“Introducing programming at an early age supports students in learning an all-round skill set valuable to everyone regardless of their future career. Showing how programming can be used in a variety of disciplines for different causes can also help make IT more appealing to currently underrepresented groups (e.g. girls). In order to accomplish this, there is naturally a big need for suitable training for both pre-service and in-service teachers as well as high-quality, level-adapted and motivating teaching material.”
While Liukas emphasises that programming skills are a tool for understanding the world today, it is not the only reason that inspires her to pave the road for coding in education.
“We visited several schools when writing the report and the schoolboys didn’t dream of becoming police officers anymore. They want to be game coders.”
Text: Eeva Haaramo