Microsoft, SAP and Facebook call on EU to support better IT education

IT giants have written an open letter to EU ministers urging them to support better ICT education and encourage children to code

IT giants including Microsoft, Facebook and SAP have written an open letter to EU ministers urging them to support better ICT education and encourage more children to learn to code.

To flourish in tomorrow’s digital economy and society, children should be learning to code, “but many, sadly, are not”, the IT giants wrote.

They pointed out that ICT and computer science skills are still seen as “niche”, and as having little relevance. But, “the ability to code is not a selfish industry ambition, nor is it just for ‘geeks’ or those destined for a career in ICT”, they said in the open letter.

Many creative jobs all depend on a degree of coding ability. “Whether analysing healthcare data, designing security software or creating special effects for movies, coding is the red thread that runs through Europe’s future professions,” they said.

Programming skills are fundamental for tasks ranging from creating web apps, enabling online shopping and optimising GPS software, through to sifting through Large Hadron Collider data for the Higgs Boson particle, simulating the formation of stars or simulating the neuronal pathways in the brain.

The call to support better ICT training in schools comes as the number of unfilled ICT vacancies in Europe is expected to reach 900,000 by 2020, as forecast by the European Commission.

Other big enterprises joining the campaign to expand coding clubs across Europe include Liberty Global, the enterprise cabling company, and Rovio, the Finland-based computer games developer that created Angry Birds.  

Standard of IT education needs to improve

The IT giants warned EU ministers that the existing “spread and sophistication of coding teaching” in Europe is very limited and not widely followed in schools.

Coding is the literacy of the digital age and is key to enable the digital revolution

Neelie Kroes and Androulla Vassiliou

Only 20% of Europe’s school children are in schools which have adopted over-arching formal policies covering the use of ICT across all subjects. In addition, under 15% of students in Europe have the opportunity to use the kind of higher level ICT in school that would help them develop 21st century skills such as collaboration, self-regulation and problem-solving, they said.

In July 2014, European commissioner for the digital agenda, Neelie Kroes, and commissioner for Education, Culture, Multilingualism and Youth, Androulla Vassiliou, jointly called for coding to be taught in all European schools.

Coding is the literacy of the digital age and is key to enable the digital revolution, Kroes and Vassiliou said at that time.

Programming is everywhere and fundamental to the understanding of a hyper-connected world, the EC has said.

According to the commission, more than 90% of professional occupations require some ICT competence. But the number of graduates in computer science is not keeping pace with this demand for skills. As a result, many open vacancies for ICT practitioners cannot be filled, despite the high level of unemployment in Europe, warned Kroes and Vassiliou.

Support the teaching of IT skills

According to Facebook, SAP, Microsoft and others, some European countries are adding support for ICT education. For instance, UK schools have added new ICT subjects to the curriculum. Instead of just learning word processing or presentation-building on computers, children will learn about algorithms, programming and computational thinking. France and Italy are planning to introduce ICT in primary schools.

Yet, about two-thirds of school teachers in the UK have said that they have not received enough government support to deliver the curriculum.

“To deliver future-proof digital skills training in schools, Europe’s teachers need to be confident and clear about new curricula,” the letter read.

The signatories also called on the IT industry to play its part in supporting IT education among children. In March 2013, Kroes warned that the digital revolution cannot happen in Europe without the contribution of technology companies.

As a result, the IT giants, in collaboration with European Schoolnet, the network of European ministries of education, are launching Europe’s first coding platform.

“We can’t know for certain what Europe’s job market will look like in five or 10 years’ time, but as experts in our field, we owe it to Europe’s youth to help equip with them with the skills they will need to succeed – regardless of where life takes them,” the letter concluded.

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