Programming and coding are arguably the bedrocks of high-tech economies, and now even young children are exposed to this vital skill. Launched in Finland in 2013 by the Helsinki company Reaktor, programming schools are starting to pop up elsewhere in Europe. The latest school, which emulates Reaktor's model, launched in Dusseldorf at the end of August.
The coding school known as Codeschule was launched by KaasaHealth, a Dusseldorf company that offers "science-based help for a healthy lifestyle." Alexander Bolotowsky, the company's chief sales officer, says this simply means "all products we create have been done together with universities or other scientific instances, and we want to bring these products to people's homes... For example, they don't need to go to a clinic for rehabilitation; they can do it at home in their own living room."
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KaasaHealth took the coding school concept from the Finnish pioneers at Reaktor and quickly set up its own website. The first course -- now fully booked -- took place in Dusseldorf on Aug. 30. Two additional courses have been scheduled for September and October.
The main purpose of the programming schools is to introduce the basics of coding -- whether through writing or coding -- to children between the ages of 4 and 9. Programming is taught using Turtle Roy, an app designed by the Finnish developer Raimo Hanski.
According to Misti Frantzen, CMO of KaasaHealth, the school is free for all children. "Access to this type of programming curriculum should be free for all children, even for those who are at public schools with fewer resources than private schools."
The Finnish government announced recently that programming will become a part of the curriculum in 2016, replacing -- to the chagrin of some and the delight of others -- one math lesson a week.
Finland's decision to introduce programming as a subject in schools is a bold move, but it makes sense, considering the country's reputation for having one of the best primary school education systems in the world.
When asked what hurdles lie ahead before the German government starts pushing programming for children, Frantzen said:
- There are two primary hurdles for bringing a programming curriculum to primary schools in Germany. The biggest is the fact that these schools would need hardware and Internet connections. Many schools that we've spoken to have only a few computers, which are shared by all the school children. A sufficiently fast Internet connection is also a challenge in many schools. The second challenge is the fact that education is governed at the state level in Germany. This means each state must address the investment individually.
The future of coding schools
Though most European countries are not yet planning to introduce programming to children, the continent generally seems to be taking coding seriously. Code Week, a Europe-wide initiative, aims to help adults find a passion for coding. "They thought the idea for children was interesting and offered to help spread the word throughout the EU," Frantzen said.
When asked if KaasaHealth is interested in exporting the concept to other countries, Frantzen sounded cautiously optimistic. "Our goal is to first try to get other German companies to launch CodeSchools," she said. "We're sharing the idea with friends at other companies, particularly those in the gaming sector, with the hope that they will try to help their children learn programming. Our hope is that parents who are programmers would want to inspire local children as well as their own kids."
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