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Estonia To Teach Programming In Schools From Age 6 307

Posted by Soulskill
from the hook-them-early dept.
An anonymous reader writes "With the launch of the Raspberry Pi, computers are becoming affordable again for the younger generations. Now what we need is kids learning about computers in greater detail, including what the hardware is inside the box, and how to create rather than just use software. Estonia looks to be the pace-setter in this regard, and has just announced that it is introducing computer programming learning for all children attending school. By all, I mean from grades 1 through to 12, meaning children as young as 6 will be writing their own code and producing software. The program is called 'ProgeTiiger' and is being introduced by the Estonian Tiger Leap Foundation as a pilot scheme to some Estonian schools this year. Next year the program will expand, adding programming groups for older kids who want to carry on activities outside of the classroom. Eventually it looks as though ProgeTiiger will become just another standard part of the curriculum, just like math and language studies are."
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Estonia To Teach Programming In Schools From Age 6

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  • Great Idea! (Score:5, Funny)

    by Coolhand2120 (1001761) on Tuesday September 04, 2012 @05:09PM (#41228397)
    I can't honestly say I've endorsed a whole heck of a lot of ideas from Estonia, but this is a great idea. I only wish I could travel back in time and encourage my teachers to teach me and my piers programming at age 6. Then I'd probably be able to figure out this compiler error I'm getting right now.

    But seriously, I hope that the U.S. adopts a similar program ASAP.
    • Peers! Damn spell check!
    • Re: (Score:2, Funny)

      by Anonymous Coward
      I'd stick a serrated knife in my own rectum before I let my child learn to program instead of playing with other kids or learning sports.
      • I'm not sure you'll have a lot of luck getting people to take advice from somebody who would stick a serrated knife in their own rectum before doing basically anything other than sticking two serrated knives in their own rectum.

      • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

        by Anonymous Coward

        I'd stick a serrated knife in my own rectum before I let my child learn to program instead of playing with other kids or learning sports.

        Why do you imagine the two are mutually exclusive? I, in fact, started programming at the age of six. My "best friend" at the time would come over and we would program together on my C64. He now works for Google; I'm working on a PhD in Aerospace Engineering. I had other friends who weren't into programming so much, but would still get together for games.

        Have you seen kids today? Computers and cell phones are a background part of their lives - like dish washers and microwaves, and I think that is a very goo

  • I have for a long time thought that basic programming skills are a necessary part of basic literacy education. It is irresponsible *not* to give everyone the tools they need to leverage computing technology to the fullest extent. Just as widespread adoption of reading, writing and arithmetic skills have enabled vast progress, the use of computers as tools to solve customized tasks that require some programming is the next logical step. Just as you can't go about in your life only filling out form letters, s

    • by Hatta (162192)

      You are absolutely correct. Programming is not solely a tool for IT professionals any more than math is solely a tool for professional engineers. Everyone has problems they could automate, if they knew enough to think about automating them.

      • by narcc (412956)

        Hear, hear!

        The only objection I can see is from those who think that being able to program makes them special somehow or feel that it would threaten their jobs in some way.

        I'll bet that's at the root of most of the negative comments here.

  • boo (Score:5, Insightful)

    by buddyglass (925859) on Tuesday September 04, 2012 @05:15PM (#41228461)
    Computer programming is not such a fundamental area of study that it deserves to be elevated to the level of "math", "reading" and "writing". To a large extent this is a zero sum game. To teach programming in primary school necessarily crowds out something else. History? Foreign language? Music? Some subject other than "computer programming" is getting the shaft.
    • Re:boo (Score:5, Insightful)

      by fiannaFailMan (702447) on Tuesday September 04, 2012 @05:18PM (#41228495) Journal

      Computer programming is not such a fundamental area of study that it deserves to be elevated to the level of "math", "reading" and "writing". To a large extent this is a zero sum game. To teach programming in primary school necessarily crowds out something else. History? Foreign language? Music? Some subject other than "computer programming" is getting the shaft.

      Hopefully it's religion.

      • I wouldn't support a recurring religion course, but a semester-long comparative class at the secondary level seems appropriate and quite useful. Cover the basic theology (including variants) and rough history of the major players and devote some time to the more influential minor players.
      • Re:boo (Score:5, Insightful)

        by shitzu (931108) on Tuesday September 04, 2012 @06:05PM (#41228985)

        Programming actually teaches more than just programming computers. It teaches you to build structure into your thoughts. I personally think learning foreign language or music or other subjects will in fact benefit from programming basics.

        BTW i am Estonian, but did not have such luck - ran into programming in late teens.

      • by DesScorp (410532)

        Computer programming is not such a fundamental area of study that it deserves to be elevated to the level of "math", "reading" and "writing". To a large extent this is a zero sum game. To teach programming in primary school necessarily crowds out something else. History? Foreign language? Music? Some subject other than "computer programming" is getting the shaft.

        Hopefully it's religion.

        In what US public school is "religion" taught? I don't know about your country (Ireland?, judging from your nick), but in the US, courts have pretty much chased any religious studies whatsoever from public schools. Instead, we spend half our time doing essential courses badly (English, Math, etc), and fill the rest of the time with feel-good nonsense fad courses, that come and go according to fashion.

        Here's my prediction: any requirement for a programming education at public schools will come at the expense

        • by xaxa (988988)

          I had to write essays like "Compare and contrast the attitudes to life after death between Christianity, Buddhism and Islam". "Explain the different attitudes to euthanasia for Muslims, Sikhs, Christians and atheists".

          (So I can see why the US wouldn't want children to actually think about religion.)

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by nebulus4 (799015)
      I'm going to disagree. Programming will teach kids the logic and logical thinking. Thus, I'm pretty sure they will excel in other subjects, especially math.
    • Computer programming is applied math, and requires at least some level of reading. It'd probably be easier to get kids interested in maths if it came in the form of computer programming, rather than pen and paper. Although I'm not sure what level of programming you can do before you're functionally literate or numerate (kids at age 6 are frequently neither)

      • Although I'm not sure what level of programming you can do before you're functionally literate or numerate (kids at age 6 are frequently neither)

        Yet another reason not to start at age six.

        • That's a reason not to start at age six, but not a reason not to start in primary school. I first began learning to program when I was in 3rd grade (so, about 10) when computers were far less user friendly, and there was nobody really around to teach me. With a better environment, I can't see why kids in that age group shouldn't start to learn a useful skill.

    • by c0lo (1497653)

      Computer programming is not such a fundamental area of study that it deserves to be elevated to the level of "math", "reading" and "writing".

      To actually do some programming, one'll already need some "math", "reading" and "writing". And, IMHO, having coded a working program is a good incentive for kids, as it reinforce their sense of "control over something" - to put it briefly: in regards with derived satisfaction, "make install" seems some levels up over "make believe".

      Besides, the writing in the Estonian language is mostly phonetic [wikipedia.org] (every grapheme corresponds to one and only one phoneme). As a result, learning to read/write is highly simplifi

    • by Velex (120469)

      Ah, good. I was looking for a comment like this. The thing is that I started writing my own programs before I knew algebra. I was comfortable with the idea of a variable around the time I was memorizing my times tables. I think my early experiences with computer programming helped imensely in forming the kind of abstract thinking that was crucial for learning higher maths. What would have been really cool is if when I was 7 there had been somebody to explain to me what those strange functions that ret

      • My experience is entirely anecdotal (like yours) but I took my first programming course around the same time I started learning algebra. Which is to say when I was about 11 or 12 years old. I'm not sure it taught me anything about math. Looking back, I question whether it would have benefited me to start studying "programming" when I was six. What would have benefited me? Better math instruction at the primary level.
    • by gweihir (88907)

      You are completely wrong. Programming is not only pervasive, it is the most important fundamental technology that emerged in the last 100 years. Teaching calculus and linear algebra is less useful, but we are doing that with quite a bit of effort.

      • Teaching calculus and linear algebra is less useful, but we are doing that with quite a bit of effort.

        Oh? In primary school? I'll grant that calculus and linear algebra aren't as worthwhile (for many students) as many seem to think. But here we're not weighing "programming" vs. "calculus". We're weighing "some really watered down primary school version of programming" vs. "reading". Or "numeric concepts". Or "language composition". At the primary level I'll take the those over "programming" any day

  • Why? (Score:4, Insightful)

    by RNLockwood (224353) on Tuesday September 04, 2012 @05:16PM (#41228471) Homepage

    Why would one want all kids to know programming? We don't require all kids to know automotive design or repair, nor manufacturing techniques for flat panel displays, nor cellphone antenna design, etc.

    Programming uses math? Well some arithmetic, surely, but usually not much else.

    Perhaps some sort of a fun introductory course might be good as it might spark interest in programming for some students, though.

    • Why would one want all kids to know programming? We don't require all kids to know automotive design or repair, nor manufacturing techniques for flat panel displays, nor cellphone antenna design, etc.

      Programming uses math? Well some arithmetic, surely, but usually not much else.

      Perhaps some sort of a fun introductory course might be good as it might spark interest in programming for some students, though.

      An introductory course for 6 year olds? What a great idea! If only TFS said exactly that.

    • Yet my high school taught automotive repair, welding, had several after/before normal classes farm related courses small engine repair and more. But when it came to computer science they had "graphic design" read coral draw/photshop and "computers" which translated to Mavis Beacon teaches typing and introduction to Microsoft office. Real computer science needs to be taught in our schools not "click the big blue capital W to write, and the big green capital E to make a chart, and big blue lower case e to bro

    • by Microlith (54737)

      We don't require all kids to know automotive design or repair

      In a society as dependent on cars as the US is, that's actually a huge negative. It makes it easy for people to be taken advantage of, and makes repairs that would probably cost a handful of parts and an hour or two of labor a rather expensive ordeal.

      nor manufacturing techniques for flat panel displays, nor cellphone antenna design

      Ridiculously obscure.

      Computers, however, cannot be avoided. They dominate modern life and the only way to escape them

    • It is a good chance to exercise their analytic and problem solving skills. Imagine a generation of children who could form their opinions about things like economic and environmental policy by testing theories against simulations. . .

    • Re:Why? (Score:5, Insightful)

      by marcansoft (727665) <[moc.tfosnacram] [ta] [rotceh]> on Tuesday September 04, 2012 @05:41PM (#41228723) Homepage

      We don't require all kids to know automotive design or repair, nor manufacturing techniques for flat panel displays, nor cellphone antenna design, etc.

      That's the root of the issue: that programming is seen in the same light as design and manufacturing, in other words, something that only professionals with years of training should do.

      It's not. Most computer users could benefit from having some (very basic) programming knowledge. For example, my dad does software translation, and he doesn't really know much about "proper programming" (I did try, unsuccessfully, to get him to learn Python), but over the years he's worked with a number of scripting languages to automate parts of his job. These days, he tends to use AutoHotkey scripts, but a number of years ago he also used Windows analogs of shell scripting and sed to automate a number of tasks, including munging (ASCII-based) document formats in various ways. He understands the basics (variables, while loops, etc.) and can use them with a simple language to make his life (much) easier.

      What could Joe Average Computer User do if he knew a bit about programming? For example, he could write a userscript to fix up a gripe in website that he visits frequently. Or write a batch file or shell script to automate a daily task. Or add some more complex logic to a spreadsheet. Or write a tool to organize his music collection in exactly the way that he wants it. Or write out a long mathematical calculation into a script so that he doesn't have to type it into a calculator over and over.

      Keep in mind that the steepest part of the learning curve for an average person is figuring out the initial concepts (and the younger you start, the more likely it is that you'll "get it"). Once you know the basic constructs of computer languages, you can quickly pick up on any special-purpose language. Anyone who knows, say, Javascript (or any half-decent BASIC dialect for that matter) should be able to breeze through the Python tutorial.

      Now, say, teaching Software Engineering to everyone would be a silly idea. Most people couldn't care less about MVC, or proper object-oriented design.

    • by Ryanrule (1657199)

      Because its about 5-10 years from being a REQUIREMENT in jobs.

      • Because its about 5-10 years from being a REQUIREMENT in jobs.

        Nah. It really won't. Most people will never have to interact with computers other than through canned UIs that are purpose-built to help them do their actual job applying all the skills and insights they gained in the time not spent learning how to program.

    • by c0lo (1497653)

      Why would one want all kids to know programming?

      So that they can create Web sites linking to "pirated TV shows" and hack xIAA/Sony/Strafor/etc while young, without being afraid to go to jail?

      You'd better start teaching your kids to defend them (that is... if they don't find much funny to hack them too).

  • by PeanutButterBreath (1224570) on Tuesday September 04, 2012 @05:27PM (#41228587)

    I can see the benefit of using computer programming as a method of teaching kids to approach problem solving and apply these skills in ways that are likely to seem relevant to their generation.

    If they think they can raise a generation of super-nerds, good luck with that. Programming isn't hard if you are wired correctly. If you are better suited to other work, learning programming will only ever make you a mediocre programmer who could have been an elite something else (granted, those alternatives aren't always feasible).

  • Because I was writing code from magazines and computer manuals, I didn't know what I was doing, but I got a familiarization with symbols. I realized at an early age algebra was really important to programming, and I gave extra effort into these courses. What is even more important than coding though is math. There should be(if there isn't already), a ton of early age math applications for kids to learn how to count and do addition/subtractions. The one that came for the TI-99 I played repetitively until
  • With the launch of the Raspberry Pi, computers are becoming affordable again for the younger generations.

    The world economy is really that bad. When I was 6, nobody had a personal computer. When I was 12, people had $2000 personal computers. When I was 14, my parents could finally afford one of those $2000 personal computers for me to write my school papers on. (Hello Word for DOS.) And today? We're grateful we can buy computers for $35, because otherwise we couldn't afford them.

    As an aside, is anybody else amused that buying a keyboard new costs almost as much as buying the Pi itself?

    • by Microlith (54737)

      The world economy is really that bad. When I was 6, nobody had a personal computer. When I was 12, people had $2000 personal computers. When I was 14, my parents could finally afford one of those $2000 personal computers for me to write my school papers on. (Hello Word for DOS.) And today? We're grateful we can buy computers for $35, because otherwise we couldn't afford them.

      Your logic doesn't work. The reality is that the cost of computing, as a whole, has dropped to the point that a fully capable system c

    • by godrik (1287354)

      It means you could include a pi in every single screen and keyboard in the world without too much of overhead. Computing power is really cheap nowadays!

  • by gmuslera (3436) on Tuesday September 04, 2012 @05:50PM (#41228819) Homepage Journal
    The OLPC's, meant for schools, included Scratch [mit.edu] (and turtleart and pypy, but for me the the star is that one), so in more countries could had been introducing programming to children for years. It could be a good tool to introduce small childrens to it, as is very visual, almost a toy, but you can dig a lot on it. Not sure in which language or environment will be done in Estonia, but that could be a good approach.
  • Widen it - teach the kids to think. Now maybe programming is a part of that but if it's a wider scope ("Now class - let's all watch this shampoo advert and then talk about what it really said") it would be more acceptable and more useful.

    Strange as it seems, not everyone wants to program. And a nation (correct me if wrong, Estonia) doesn't really want a nation of programmers. A nation does want a nation of thinkers though. (well, most of the time).
  • I wonder is thinking behind this, in any way related to the 2007 attacks on Estonia's networks [wikipedia.org]
  • by jdbuz (962721) on Tuesday September 04, 2012 @06:38PM (#41229333)
    To want to "bring the manufacturing jobs back" is a lost cause. Programming is the new manufacturing and what Estonia is doing is brilliant. More and more everything in our daily lives is governed by software. Estonia is a small country and choosing this as their national specialty is going to prove monumental to their long-term success.
    • To want to "bring the manufacturing jobs back" is a lost cause. Programming is the new manufacturing and what Estonia is doing is brilliant. More and more everything in our daily lives is governed by software. Estonia is a small country and choosing this as their national specialty is going to prove monumental to their long-term success.

      Being the "new manufacturing" is a dubious honor. What is to stop programming jobs from being off-shored and sucked into a race-to-the-bottom?

      • by gweihir (88907)

        And it is not. Programming is both art and craft. The average atrocious Java "programmer" is not going to cut it and has not cut it for quite some time. Just requires a bit more time to become obvious.

  • Without some programming skills, you are just as uneducated as without some real math skills.

    • By the time those kids grow up, programming as an idea would be obsolete. Not just the language/s, but only used in specialized cases. To get to the point, computers could be cognitive and perhaps self-aware. "Programming" would but nothing more than holding a conversation with it. It would turn your ideas and concepts into real work to render the results for you.

      Perhaps we should be teaching these kids history and philosophy instead. Let the computers do all the logical grunt work for us.

  • by golodh (893453) on Wednesday September 05, 2012 @04:02AM (#41232627)
    No Panic! No Panic! The Estonians are gaining on us! They're teaching programming at the age of 6.

    And I hear that the Chinese now teach programming in kindergarten.

    Maybe we've got to bite the bullet and find a way to teach programming in the womb. It's the only way we can maintain our lead, right? And we can give the child-bearers a refresher course too while we're at it.

Little known fact about Middle Earth: The Hobbits had a very sophisticated computer network! It was a Tolkien Ring...

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