Friday, October 26, 2012


Sometimes you have to look to Estonia for  innovations in teaching kids about computers.

Several recent articles  Forbes, Gigaom,  UbuntuLife) laud a new government sponsored pilot program that aims to teach programming to every child in the country, starting in the first grade.

Here are excerpts from the Forbes article:

Estonia, a small country with a population of 1.3 million people, punches above its own weight when it comes to advancements in tech. It was the birthplace of Skype, one of the first countries to have a government that was fully e-enabled, and now it has launched a nationwide scheme to teach school kids from the age of seven to 19, how to write code. The idea isn’t to start churning out app developers of the future, but people who have smarter relationships with technology, computers and the Web .

There are 550 schools in this Eastern European country, and as the new term starts this month around 20 of them will take part in the pilot program….

This is the brainchild of Ave Lauringson, who  knows it’s unusual for a nationwide school system to teach kids about coding at this young an age. “It’s a unique project. [Other countries] want to start programming in secondary school, but they don’t dare to start in the first grade.”

So why start so early? “We want to change thinking that computers and programs are just things as they are. There is an opportunity to create something, and be a smart user of technology,” she says.

For the youngest students, the new courses  won’t be strictly focused on learning programming languages like Java, Perl and C++. Rather they’ll ease kids into the necessary skills for coding like logic, which has the benefit of some overlap with subjects like math and potentially, robotics.

“We have only 1.3 million people, so it’s very easy for us to develop these kinds of projects,” says Lauringson. “Estonia is like a little model country to start new projects like this.” She adds a note of caution though: “We dare, but we don’t know what’s going to happen.”

The Gigaom article elaborates:

“The first e-courses are meant for primary school teachers and they will take place at the educational portal (Koolielu is Estonian for “school life”) that the Foundation maintains,” the group’s head of training, Ave Lauringson, told me. ”We expect about 30 teachers to take part in the first course. So we are just taking our first steps now, but we intend to expand the program significantly.”
The idea — which is being developed with funding from the Estonian Ministry of Education and Research — is that children in grades 1-4 will take coding classes as part of their normal curriculum. After that, they can join extracurricular “coding clubs”, explained Lauringson.

Since gaining its independence from Soviet Union more than 20 years ago, its politicians and business leaders have followed a deliberate, direct path to try and build the country into a technologically-advanced nation.

These days most of Estonia’s government services are run online, most of its banking is done online, and there’s a significant corps of programmers who have built some really important companies. It’s working, and Tiger Leap’s idea is clearly to try and muscle that advantage along even further.

This project is an initiative  of Estonia’s Tiger Leap Foundation, a 16-year-old, government-sponsored organization that promotes technology and science in schools.  Wikipedia notes that this project was first proposed in 1996 by Toomas Hendrik Ilves, then ambassador of Estonia to the United States and later President of Estonia, and Jaak Aaviksoo, then minister of Education.  Funds for the foundation of Tiigrihüpe were first allocated in national budget of 1997.

Kudos to Toomas, Ave and Estonia!  Keep an eye on this small country.

1 comment:

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