Code – A New Language for Europe

With 23 official languages, the European Union is a melting-pot of diverse and rich voices. And while it may be hard for all of them to be heard among the chorus, the call for one universal language that can drive Europe forward is becoming louder.

That language is code.

Coding is the key to unlocking Europe’s potential, across every industry, sector and profession. In an increasingly digital world, computer science skills have become the basis for driving Europe’s economies – and not just in the ICT sector. An estimated 90% of all jobs already require some computer skills, while two-thirds of ICT jobs exist in non-ICT industries.

But learning to code is about much more than just preparing young Europeans for future jobs.

Coding teaches broader skills such as creativity, flexibility and problem-solving abilities, and can empower children to understand the world around them. Coding truly is the new literacy and it should be treated as such.

The alternative is a generation of digital natives who can consume technology, but not create it. Imagine standing in a group at a party and not understanding anything being said by those around you. This is the kind of experience that young Europeans could face in years to come if Europe’s current digital education trends persist.

European policymakers and influencers have already recognized the need to make coding a curriculum cornerstone, on a par with other foundational subjects like languages, science and mathematics. The newly-appointed Vice-President for the Digital Single Market, Andrus Ansip, has highlighted coding as “bread-and-butter” for Europe’s schoolchildren and called for its integration into curricula.

Some EU countries are doing well on this front, but progress is slow. Fewer than 15% of European students currently have access in school to the kind of high-level ICT teaching they need.

Industry has an important role to play in changing this status quo. This is why, on the occasion of EU Code Week 2014, Microsoft spearheaded a coalition of other prominent technology companies to launch the European Coding Initiative — a pan-European coding platform providing teachers and students with coding resources and training — as well as hosting the finals of our new coding competition for European students, the Kodu Kup.

Like any language, learning to code needs the right level of support. But it also need to be fun and engaging if it’s going to inspire lifelong passion and commitment. Everybody needs to start somewhere, and that start can be as short as just sixty minutes – enough to light the spark of coding curiosity.

At Microsoft, as part of our long-term efforts to empower young people we are encouraging 100 million people to try an Hour of Code this week. In just one hour, students from across the globe can take their first steps to uncovering their hidden tech talents. To help them on their way, we’ve created Microsoft Imagine, which aims to equip aspiring student developers of all skill levels with the tools, resources, and experiences they need to turn their innovative ideas into reality.

As a hub for Microsoft’s wide range of coding programs and resources, Microsoft Imagine will allow any and all students, young or old, newbies or seasoned developers, to find the right tools they need to inspire creativity, create new innovation and share their ideas with the world.

And as Hour of Code 2014 gets underway, events designed to get kids curious about coding are taking place across Europe, from London to Lisbon and beyond. From a Nordic Kodu Battle between Danish and Swedish schoolchildren happening over Skype, to code-a-thons and master-classes engaging students right through to university level, Microsoft Imagine provides the right resources for every level and skill-set, opening the door to digital success for all.

Equipping the next generation of Europeans with appropriate digital skills must begin at an early age for them to become truly second nature. This way in years to come, they will find themselves leading the conversation, rather than looking on as bewildered bystanders.

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Sylvie Laffarge
Director Philanthropies Europe

Sylvie Laffarge is Director of Philanthropies Europe. She joined Microsoft in 2006 and currently leads Microsoft's YouthSpark and Technology for Good efforts across Europe, driving alignment with European public policy priorities around issues related to youth, employment, digital skills, entrepreneurship, and CSR. Launched in 2012, Microsoft YouthSpark is a global, company-wide initiative designed to create opportunities for three hundred million youth around the world. Through partnerships with governments, nonprofits and businesses, its aim is to empower youth to imagine and realize their full potential by connecting them with greater education, employment, and entrepreneurship opportunities. Sylvie previously held leadership and external representation roles in numerous CSR, ICT policy and trade associations and non-profits in Brussels, on the subject of youth employment, ICT and skills. Prior to joining Microsoft she led the corporate community relations office for The Walt Disney Company. She pioneered Disney's community affairs strategy in Europe and was instrumental during her 17 year tenure in developing the company's strong socially responsible profile. Sylvie Laffarge brought relevance to Disney's donation portfolio and initiated signature programs such as Disney's Compassionate Program, Disney VoluntEARS and the DisneyHand effort in Europe. Sylvie Laffarge is a graduate and post-graduate of the University of La Sorbonne in Paris.