The first ever EU Code Week was born from a desire to show young people how they could change the world with technology. The event has grown apace: last year, more than 150,000 people took part in 4,000 events across 37 countries. And this year, 42 countries have planned coding events and activities.
It’s cheering to see an event which celebrates computer science gaining momentum. What it shows is that coding is for everyone. You might not plan to be an app designer or an ICT engineer, but in our digital world, understanding what lies behind the devices we use every day is as essential as understanding the principles of electricity. Digital skills are useful in all types of jobs; from editor to designer, from banking to manufacturing. In fact, an estimated 90% of jobs now require some level of computer skills.
And it’s clear now that computer science education cannot remain a perk for a select few. Enabling every single student to access digital skills training is also an economic imperative.
Digital skills are vital for European economies to benefit from new technologies which improve productivity and boost growth. Without an adequately-skilled workforce, the digital economy will quickly grind to a halt.
In its Digital Single Market strategy, the European Commission highlighted concern over the predicted shortage of 825,000 ICT professionals by 2020 for this very reason, and has promised to focus its attention on the increasing need for digital skills in the upcoming Digital Skills Taxonomy and through DG Employment’s Skills Strategy.
The time to act is now. Member states should recognize the importance of computer science education for every student and act accordingly. Recent research conducted by European Schoolnet shows that sixteen EU countries have already done this by integrating coding into their curricula at some level. France, Spain, and Poland now have coding on the timetable, while England made headlines in 2014 when it introduced compulsory computing science lessons.
But on the whole, progress still varies wildly across member states. And this threatens to widen an already-deep divide between the digital “haves” and the “have-nots.”
To prevent this, national policymakers should implement comprehensive frameworks for incorporating computer science into national curricula in a systematic way. Meanwhile, the EU can demonstrate its support by including high-level ICT competencies within the European framework on key competences for lifelong learning – the EU’s recommendation for the knowledge, skills and attitudes every European citizen should possess.
But technology is only as good as the “instructions” that come with it. So we need to ensure that reform of curricula is accompanied by the right support, training and resources for teachers.
Thirteen EU countries currently provide some such form of training. But just as fast as technology evolves, so must the professional education programs for teachers. To ensure that teachers can deliver ICT curricula with confidence, policymakers must create frameworks which support teachers on an ongoing basis with training and resources. The tech industry can step in here to lend a hand, by providing blueprints for effective technology deployment and use, for instance.
These are steps which should be taken today to have an impact tomorrow. But reform takes time. And in the meantime, more students risk being left behind.
That’s why it’s also essential to support initiatives which develop students’ digital skills beyond the four walls of the classroom. Programs such as CoderDojo, our Microsoft YouthSpark partner, not only teach kids how to code, they also focus on mentorship, encouraging every child to pass on the skills they’ve learnt to others.
Paying it forward is something we believe in strongly at Microsoft. As long-time supporters of the European Commission’s Grand Coalition for Digital Jobs and a founding member of the European Coding Initiative, we believe that collaboration between the tech industry, policymakers and educators is the key to fostering Europe’s future pool of digital talent and closing the skills gap. You can read more about what we’re up to during Code Week here – we encourage everyone to get involved, get coding, and open their eyes to a whole new world of digital possibilities.