This is why primary and secondary school students should learn to program

In March, Ontario announced a partial reform of its primary and secondary education programs, in particular to integrate computer programming learning as mandatory from September 2022.

This decision is in line with those of Nova Scotia and British Columbia, the first and only Canadian provinces to mandate the teaching of programming basics in 2015 and 2016, respectively, in elementary and secondary schools.

In Quebec, we are thinking about the place programming could have in the school curriculum.

In the rest of the world, many governments have also realized this change, such as Estonia in 2012, the United Kingdom in 2014 and South Korea in 2017.

But what are the arguments put forward to motivate the integration of computer science, and more specifically programming, into the school curriculum of students? The scientific literature highlights three main arguments on this topic that will be discussed in the context of this article.

Researcher at the Unesco Chair of Curriculum Development and teacher at the Department of Didactics in Educational Technology, my graduation project in Educational Sciences at UQAM focuses precisely on the impact of learning to program on young people.

Meeting the growing needs of the labor market

The changing global labor market is one of the central drivers for integrating programming into school curricula. This motivation, widely promoted by political decision-makers, is essentially related to the need to train more people with programming skills. Indeed, technological knowledge, especially in the high-tech sector, has been driving economic growth in North America and elsewhere in the world for more than 20 years. A growing number of jobs require a deep understanding of technology.

A growing number of jobs call for in-depth knowledge of technological knowledge.

This number of jobs is also expected to increase in the coming years as data science, artificial intelligence and technologies for the decentralization of finance (such as blockchain technology, on which cryptocurrencies are based) become increasingly dominant areas of the economic sector. Thus, learning to code at an early age could be a way to facilitate countries’ immersion and performance in the digital economy.

Some studies also argue that exposing students to programming early in the school curriculum could positively influence the identities they develop in this field, as there are many stereotypes associated with it (mainly that “computers are only for guys is”. ). In this regard, arguments can therefore be put forward that go beyond economic benefits.

Promoting Social Justice

According to several authors, greater exposure to computer science by teaching young people to program could also help promote greater social equality in terms of representation and access to technology professions.

On the one hand, computer science skills can indeed provide access to high-paying jobs, which could contribute to greater financial stability for marginalized groups who have not had the opportunity to accumulate wealth in past generations. On the other hand, the increased participation of people from currently underrepresented groups (women, natives, black people) in IT could also promote diversity and ultimately lead to an increase in the total number of employees.

There is also a related argument that greater diversity among workers would lead to better products that are accessible to a greater proportion of consumers in the market. Too much homogeneity among employees leads to the design of products and services that cater to a relatively narrow spectrum of individuals and problems, which could amplify certain inequalities.

Researchers who advance this equality argument argue that if swift and deliberate action is not taken to promote greater diversity, it could lead to a “digital divide”, a gap in opportunity between dominant and marginalized groups, which will become much more widespread in the coming years. will get bigger). Learning to program for all (“Computing for All”) could in this sense be a measure to reduce this gap and promote greater social justice.

robot and human pointing in the same direction on a screen
Greater diversity in the technology community would narrow the opportunities gap between dominant and marginalized groups.

Developing students’ cognitive skills

Finally, the argument most often cited relates to the role programming would play in the development of computational thinking in the learner. The concept of computational thinking, defined and popularized in 2006, refers to the skills of “problem solving, system design and understanding human behavior based on the fundamental concepts of computer science”.

Several authors argue that the development of such computational thinking would be beneficial to the learner as it would enable him to develop high-level reasoning skills that can be transferred to other forms of learning such as problem solving, creativity and abstraction. .

For these reasons, computational thinking is often incorporated into even new programming learning curricula, such as in the curriculum in England where it is said that “quality computer science education equips students to use computational thinking and creativity to understand and change the world”.

The introduction of programming into the school curriculum could therefore benefit all students, even those who are not destined for a technology career, as they could benefit in a more cross-cutting way from computational thinking in their daily lives.

However, it is important to emphasize that these beneficial effects for the learner, while much mentioned and increasingly documented, still need to be demonstrated by more research with comparative and longitudinal aspects; my graduation project falls exactly within this perspective.

In short, it appears Ontario’s decision-makers have recognized the threefold benefit that learning to code could bring to its future cohort of citizens. The greatest challenge the Ontario government now faces is the lack of sufficiently qualified teaching staff to adequately introduce this complex subject to students.

Sufficient staff training will indeed be an essential condition for this integration to be successful. In particular, a possible solution could be to integrate programming into the initial university education of future teachers.

This whole process could illuminate the other Canadian provinces currently engaged in curriculum reflection, such as Quebec.

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