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Computer programming for Finnish schoolchildren

Starting this autumn, Finnish children will start learning computer programming from their very first year in school. Under the new curriculum, programming will not be taught as a separate subject in elementary schools, but will be integrated with other subjects such as math lessons.

Poika ohjelmoi robottia
A fifth grader at Koskela Elementary School in Oulu programming a robot. Image: Mirko Siikaluoma / Yle

Mika Ruikka, a fifth-grade teacher at the Koskela Elementary School in Oulu started teaching some programming basics pupils already during the last school term.

"Last year, in cooperation with another teacher we taught coding to second graders in order to get some experience about how coding works out with the first and second grade," Ruikka relates.

The results were promising. Even though pupils absorbed the information at different paces, they all got the gist of it.

Programming as play

The introduction of programming in elementary schools will not mean that first graders will be studying programming languages. Instead, the aim is to teach the basic principles of what coding is and what it does, through play.

At Koskela Elementary School this means, for example, a game in which the children direct Angry Bird characters through a maze by giving them simple instructions. Another is a game-like activity in which the teacher pretends to be a robot and the class has to give the simplest possible instructions for completing a task such as stacking blocks to build a tower.

Older pupils can be taught through more challenging activities. Last year, Mika Ruikka's fifth graders constructed computer controlled Lego robots. In higher grades, pupils will move on to learning programming languages.

Not vocational training

While all children will be taught coding, not all will become professional coders. According to Mika Ruikka, the intention is not to prepare children to enter the field.

"However, in almost all professions today, computer technologies are needed and so it is useful to know what the principles involved are. Programming also teaches logical thinking which helps a lot, for example with math," he points out. "We can't say for sure what all the skills are that these pupils will need in the future. But, logical thinking is required in more than just programming."

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