It is important to understand the relevance of initiating the future citizen cohort to the basics of computer programming. (Shutterstock)
In March, Ontario announced partial reform of its study programs at primary and secondary level, in order to integrate in particular the learning of computer programming on a compulsory basis from September 2022.
This decision is in line with those made by Nova Scotia and British Columbia, which were the first and only Canadian provinces to make learning the basics of programming compulsory in elementary and secondary schools in 2015 and 2016 respectively.
In Quebec, we think the place that programming could take in the school curriculum.
In the rest of the world, many governments have also realized this change, such as theEstonia from 2012the UK in 2014 and the South Korea in 2017.
But what are the arguments put forward to motivate the integration of computer science, and more specifically programming, into the school curriculum of students? The scientific literature highlights three main arguments on this subject which will be discussed in the context of this article.
Researcher at the Unesco Chair in curriculum development and lecturer in the department of didactics in educational technology, my thesis project in educational sciences at UQAM focuses precisely on the impact of learning programming on young people. learners.
Meet the growing needs of the labor market
The changing global job market is one of the central motivations for integrating programming into school curricula. This motivation, widely promoted by policy makers, is essentially linked to the need to train more people with programming skills. Indeed, technological knowledge, particularly in the high-tech sector, has stimulated economic growth in North America and elsewhere in the world for more than 20 years. A growing number of jobs require a in-depth understanding of technologies.
It is also expected that this number of jobs will increase in the coming years, considering that data science, artificial intelligence and technologies for the decentralization of finance (such as block chain, on which cryptocurrencies are based) are becoming increasingly dominant areas of the economic sector. Teaching coding from an early age could thus be a way to facilitate the immersion and performance of countries in the digital economy.
Some studies also argue that exposing students to programming early in the school curriculum could have a positive impact on the identity they develop with regard to this field, considering that there are many stereotypes associated with it (mainly that “computing is only for boys”). In this regard, arguments that go beyond the economic benefits can thus be put forward.
Promoting social equity
According to several authors, greater exposure to computers through learning to program among young people could also contribute to promoting greater social equity in terms of representativeness and access to technological professions.
On the one hand, computer science skills can indeed provide access to well-paying jobs, which could help provide greater financial stability for marginalized groups who have not had the opportunity to accumulate wealth in last generations. On the other hand, the increased participation of people from currently underrepresented groups (women, aboriginal people, black people) in computer science could also promote diversity, and ultimately result in an increase in the total number of workers.
There is also a related argument that greater diversity among workers would lead to better productsaccessible to a majority of consumers in the market. Too much homogeneity among workers leads to the design of products and services that respond to a relatively limited spectrum of individuals and problems, which could reinforce certain inequalities.
Researchers who advance this equity argument argue that if prompt and intentional action is not taken to foster greater diversity, it could lead to a “digital divide”, a gap in opportunities between dominant and marginalized groups, much more marked in the years to come). The learning of programming for all (Computing for All) could in this sense represent a measure to reduce this gap and promote greater social equity.
Develop the cognitive skills of learners
Finally, the argument most often mentioned concerns the role that programming would play in the development of a computational thinking in the learner. Defined and popularized in 2006the concept of computational thinking refers to the skills of “problem solving, designing systems and understanding human behavior based on the fundamental concepts of computer science”.
Several authors argue that the development of such computational thinking would be beneficial for the learner, as it would allow him to develop high-level reasoning skills. likely to be transferred to other learningsuch as problem solving, creativity and abstraction.
For these reasons, computational thinking is often incorporated into even new programming learning programs, as in the england coursewhere it is said that “a high-quality computer science education equips students to use computational thinking and creativity to understand and change the world”.
The introduction of programming in the school curriculum could therefore have an advantage for all students, even those who are not destined for a technological career, because they could benefit from computational thinking in their daily lives in a more transversal way.
However, it is important to emphasize that these beneficial effects for the learner, although widely mentioned and increasingly documented, still need to be demonstrated by more research involving comparative and longitudinal aspects ; my thesis project falls precisely within this perspective.
In short, it seems that Ontario’s decision-makers have perceived the triple advantage that learning to program could offer for its future cohort of citizens. However, the major challenge that the Ontario government will now have to face concerns the lack of sufficiently qualified teaching staff to adequately introduce this complex discipline to students.
Sufficient staff training will indeed be an essential condition for this integration to be successful. A potential solution could in particular be to integrate programming into the initial university training of future teachers.
This whole process could enlighten the other Canadian provinces currently in curriculum reflection, as in Quebec.
The original version of this article was published on The conversationa non-profit news site dedicated to sharing ideas between academic experts and the general public.
Patrick Charland has received funding from the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada, the Fonds de recherche du Québec – Société culture.