“The fact that children in Austria can complete their mandatory schooling without having a single hour of instruction about computers is scandalous. Every child should be taught about using information and communication technologies at every level of their schooling,” said Gerald Futschek from the Vienna University of Technology, who has long been pushing for better computer education in schools. Computer classes are only mandatory in Austria in the ninth year at general education high schools and at vocational schools.
Great Britain as a possible model
In other countries, computer education plays a much more important role. Great Britain recently decided that children between the ages of five and sixteen will receive computer education every year, as reported in the Telegraph. “This is exactly what we need to do, especially because information and computer technology is becoming more and more important in everyday life. Learning how to program computers is an important part of general education today, and the economy can use every qualified specialist it can get in this field. Coding is also an excellent way to impart logical thinking, and is a very good outlet for creativity,” Futschek said.
Slovakia also has required computer instruction at all levels of schooling. Austria doesn’t even have any plans for this yet. “Something like this can’t be done overnight. In Slovakia, for example, there was a major training program for teachers, because they did not have the necessary skills. The situation in Austria is similar,” the computer expert Futschek explained. And the technical infrastructure at many schools would not allow an increased focus on computer education. “Because more and more children have tablets and laptops, it would be easy to rectify this in many places by installing WIFI,” the researcher said.
Education against spying
Experts also have to carefully consider what the children should be taught in computer classes. “That depends in part on how old they are. For example, there are systems for programming robots that teach the skills in a fun way and that are suitable for very young children. And children need to learn how to use office software, which is what computers are generally used for most in schools,” Futschek explained. At the end of their compulsory schooling, students should at least be able to program at a basic level. “Programming languages change, so the education should not focus too strongly on just one. But what is most important is the fundamental way of thinking, which can be imparted starting in primary school,” Futschek said.
NSA scandal is an “education problem”
Because information and communication technology has become commonplace in so many parts of everyday life, a certain degree of familiarity with these technologies is important for everyone. “The NSA scandal is a good example: It is essentially an education problem. Such spying is only possible because so few people have a firm enough grasp of the technology,” the university specialist stressed. Programming will always be a necessary skill in working with technology, Futschek added, because a self-programming system is an illusion. But for now, these arguments are falling on deaf ears in the Austrian administration. “Parliament takes too much of a user-oriented view of technology. Right now, one required hour of computer education a week at school would be a dream, but I don’t see that happening,” Futschek said.