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Only a Holistic Approach Will Deliver High Quality Computing and Digital Literacy Education

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With coding initiatives around Europe, and moves to bring coding into the classroom in many countries, there has been a lot of attention on digital skills lately. But digital skills are far broader than just coding. We’ve argued in our recent position paper that there is a real risk that a focus on coding alone could harm other aspects of computer science and digital literacy education. All young people must have the chance to build a good foundation of digital literacy skills and the possibility to study computing, including coding. But focussing on coding alone could leave today’s students without the skills they need for their studies, and their future in the workforce.

With European campaigns such as e-Skills for Jobs 2015, and EU-backed initiatives like the Grand Coalition for Digital Jobs, it is clear that there is a recognition from governments and industry that digital skills are vital to keeping Europe at the forefront of global competitiveness. The challenge that we are facing is an urgent one, but as is shown clearly from studies conducted around Europe, it is not a challenge that we are fully ready for.

A recent study by ECDL Switzerland highlighted the problem, finding that participants taking tests of their basic computer skills scored, on average, less than 50%. Other studies, conducted in various countries including Austria, Germany, Denmark and the UK have found similar results. A survey of employers that was done by BCS, the chartered institute for IT in Britain revealed that almost half of employers thought their workforces were not equipped with the right digital skills for the challenges that they will face in the future. Without a unified approach to teaching computing and digital literacy in schools, which gives all students a strong foundation of digital literacy, there is a real danger of a digital divide emerging between people with ICT skills and people without.

Just as digital literacy is essential, so is computing important, and coding forms a part of that. Learning computing can open up to students the vast range of possibilities that digital technology offers. It can serve as the foundation of a key skill, which some students will want to pursue and build a career on. A useful analogy is the way that science is taught in schools. All students are given the chance to learn the basics of science: the scientific method, the periodic table, chemical reactions, and so on. This introduction is useful for every student, but it also makes further study, and the possibility of a career in science, accessible. A reasoned approach to computing and digital literacy education can take a similar form. All students can be given the digital literacy skills they will rely on through their lives, and all students can be introduced to the possibilities that computing as a subject of study offers.

We think that by taking a unified and balanced approach and not saying that we should teach only computing, only coding, or only ICT, we can make sure that all students experience the best education in computing and digital literacy. We can prepare the next generation of employees to meet the challenges of the future and help Europe remain at the forefront of competitiveness.

You can find out more about our position on e-skills at school by visiting ecdl.org/eskillsatschool