For over two decades now information technology has been an optional part of the standard education syllabus of schoolchildren in the UK and across much of mainland Europe. However, until now it has never been an obligatory and central part of pupils’ syllabus but rather an option that can be chosen in the later stages of compulsory education. The growing role of IT and the digital sphere in the European and global economy has for some time begged the question why informatics doesn’t have a more central role in the core educational syllabus for primary and secondary school students.
The fact that Europe is grappling with a deepening shortage of employees with IT skills strengthens the argument for information technology in education as a core subject alongside maths and literacy. There is also an argument that learning the basics of informatics is more, or at least as, important to younger generations being equipped for the workforce than traditional staples such as history or geography.
On that basis a new strategic partnership has been formed between The Association for Computing Machinery’s ACM Europe Council and Informatics Europe, the aim of which is to establish informatics as an ‘essential discipline’ throughout all age groups of compulsory education throughout Europe. The UK participates in both organisations and the ‘Informatics for All: The Strategy’, being worked on also involves non-EU countries.
The Strategy’s premise is that all European pupils should be provided with equal opportunity to ‘understand, participate in, influence and contribute to the development of the digital world in general’. This will also allow Europe’s economy to have a realistic chance of recruiting and further educating the volume of IT specialists that will be required if the region is to remain at the forefront of the digital world economy.
The ‘Strategy’ is centred around 2 core pillars:
1) Informatics must be introduced as a specialized and independent subject in school from the early years onwards; and
2) Informatics must also be integrated into the teaching of all school subjects.
This will involve information in technology in education being integrated into all subjects as well as being a stand-alone discipline. Teachers trained appropriately to be able to competently deliver informatics education is also key.
‘The Strategy’ recognises that the decentralised nature of Europe means the implementation of informatics in education syllabuses will be the responsibility of each country individually. However, the ACM Europe Council and Informatics Europe will provide advice and consultation.
A lack of teachers with strong informatics and digital economy skills is perhaps what has most held back information technology in education until now. How Europe and the individual countries within it are able to address this challenge will be key to the future success of ‘the Strategy’.