For me, the framework of my school plan was as normal as it certainly was for many others. Math was a compulsory subject, and of course also German, and the natural sciences were not to be missed. Now Lower Saxony has decided to introduce computer science as a compulsory subject from 2023/2024. I'll tell you why that pisses me off.
Since 1991 we have been stumbling through the Internet, a little older is the personal computer (PC) and thus also the programming language. Later, we have seen technical masterpieces like the BlackBerry come and go, we have been able to participate in how the first phones with touch screens came onto the market - in short, our journey through the technical age has been going on for some time.
But when Angela Merkel, during Barack Obama's visit in 2013, said at the press conference: "the Internet is uncharted territory for all of us", my jaw literally dropped. She wasn't serious about that, was she? Sure, the Internet is new territory after 23 years, not to mention the invention of the wheel everyone is talking about - how it can move, it's magic.
But let's be serious: as funny as the statement was, and as easy as it was to tease Merkel, it showed how far Germany is lagging behind in dealing with technology. And now, a good seven years later, things hardly look any better, because the sad truth is that many of us are still newcomers to the basics of our technical world.
Computer science becoming a compulsory subject is nothing but hot air
Don't get me wrong here. The debate about making computer science a compulsory subject has been going on for some time. For example, the FAZ 2018 mentioned a survey by Bitkom, which showed that almost 70 percent of Germans are in favor of the introduction of computer science as a compulsory subject (from 5th Grade upwards). Last year, the German Informatics Society (together with other organizations) wrote a letter to the state government of North Rhine-Westphalia. Roughly speaking, the demand was to include computer science as a compulsory subject instead of continuing to offer it as an optional subject. In addition, the federal government (also through the Digital Pact, which was launched last year) is supporting local and state governments to adapt to the digital change. In return, the German states are obliged to promote digital literacy by adapting curricula.
The will is there, but just wanting something won't get us anywhere. The absolutely ironic thing about the disaster is that in 2018 the question arose about where to get the teachers for the computer science lessons. Just so we don't forget: for more than half a century (so for quite a while now) there have been computers. As a home computer for "everyone" it had its peak in the 1980s.
I'm really not a math genius, but it almost seems to me that we at least have had some time to train teachers of computer science until 2018. Or at least to introduce an additional computer science seminar during teacher training as a compulsory part of the course. We had time, so what the hell have we been doing all these years? Hoping that this ominous technology, with its codes and computers, will disappear back where it came from?
Technology has evolved our educational offering but - well, how shall I put it: "the Internet is uncharted territory for all of us".
The right move, but with so much still up in the air
The good news first: we are slow, but at least we learn something new from time to time. After all, Heise reported only yesterday that Lower Saxony wants to make computer science a compulsory subject starting in 2023/2024 from the 10th grade. By 2025 it should then also be part of the standard curriculum for ninth graders. Nevertheless, this makes it only the sixth federal state to include computer science in its curriculum. Good, but still ridiculously little, considering how long we've had time to adjust.
Even more amusing is the statement in the press release. Because as a reason for the introduction of computer science as a compulsory subject, Minister of Education Grant Hendrik Tonne says the following:
"We have to start promptly to bring the subject of computer science forward, because computer science will be a core competence of the future."
That's well said, but unfortunately, it's crap. Computer science is a part of our lives not only in the future and should not be included in our general education in three, four or five years. It's bad enough that we and the politicians have neglected it so far - but what I find even worse is that we simply don't seem to make any progress.
But what really annoys me about the news, and really gets on my stomach, is the class level in which computer science is to be offered. Do we really think that it is enough to introduce our teenagers to the technologies that have a major impact on all our lives and infrastructure?
Conclusion: why not start as children?
As I said before, I think the approach is fine. That we are doing anything at all is a good and important step in the right direction. But unfortunately, we have waited far too long to train computer scientists for apprenticeships or to integrate additional courses in teacher training. But if we now stick to paving the way to computer science only for older pupils, we will lose even more important know-how for future generations.
Why not teach children technology and computer science in primary school? One example is the LEGO Education sets, which support children from kindergarten to secondary school and even university with age-appropriate software and buildable models. The concept is not new either. In Japan, for example, computer programming has long since taken its place in the curriculum of primary (public) schools.
We have long since been living in a world where technology follows us like our second shadow. Where children tweet, edit videos and upload them themselves. If we want to do something good for our children and our economy, then we should encourage the little ones at an early age to give them a deeper insight into the technical world than we ourselves probably have.
What do you think? Do you think the introduction of a compulsory computer science course from the ninth grade onwards is okay? Or do you want to familiarize your children with technology from the very beginning? Tell us about the education system for this topic in your country.