Coding in education: a Finnish perspective
by Dr. Keijo Sipilä
Fourth Industrial Revolution refers to the idea of an era in which technology, such as artificial intelligence, virtual reality or robotics, is diminishing the lines of digital, physical and biological worlds.
New services, products and businesses are now available and born that we could not even imagine a little while ago. This rapid evolution is significantly affecting our future lives, our work career, or how we spend our spare time.
Technology runs our world to a very large extent. There are forecasts saying a large proportion of familiar occupations giving livelihood to a good many people will render many more traditional jobs redundant. International organizations and countries are making plans in how to meet the challenges as well as the possibilities of the new era.
In a number of countries, including Finland, computational thinking and coding are implemented across different subjects such as maths or even music. Finland was among the first countries in the world to include programming in the country’s national curriculum. This was because also in Finland coding is often regarded as a new civic skill that helps future societies to prosper.
Coding and computational thinking suit well into non-formal learning and can play a key role in blurring boundaries between formal and non-formal education. STEM learning (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) is an interdisciplinary and applied approach to curriculum, where these four normally separated subjects are taught in a cohesive way, based on real-life problems.
This approach offers a good way to incorporate coding and robotics into learning. STEM learning is becoming more and more popular internationally, but not so much with a specific term as it is in the Finnish educational setting. This is because in Finland, the terminology differs from other countries in a sense that the Finnish curriculum emphasizes, not forgetting subject based studies, developing transversal competences: a combination of knowledge, skills, values, attitudes and will.
The new curriculum is about phenomenal, multi-disciplinary learning and competences such as multi-literacy, ICT, entrepreneurship, thinking and learn to learn skills.
Coding in education is integrated in the Curriculum in two ways:
Firstly as part of both general ICT competence and secondly as the compulsory subject studies of math, so programming (or coding) is not a separate school subject.
Coding starts already in the first grade. There are goals for the ICT competences for grades 1–2, grades 3–6 and grades 7–9. According to these guidelines, pupils start their journey by getting to know basic coding by composing directives on a sequential basis.
Starting from the 3rd grade, they start to focus on creating code with a graphical programming environment and develop thinking skills. In grades, 7-9 students get to be more creative by solving problems and practice good coding skills.
Children love to learn by play. The experience is showing that also in the field of coding, children are enjoying the engaging learning activities and have opportunities to develop mathematical concepts, problem solving skills and social skills by learning coding through a game-based environment. Schools are using a variety of game-based environments to teach students the basics of coding.
Incorporating coding in education as a new, transversal skill has been one of the biggest changes in the history of Finnish national education strategies. From the neighboring countries, Estonia has done the same and Sweden is now following suit.
It will be very interesting to see whether this approach is something that will prevail as the field of education changes again in the future.
Educational institutes cannot afford to stay unchanged as the world around is in the middle of a fast paced technological evolution. As artificial intelligence is getting smarter (and partly already outsmarting us humans), the latest news talks about how we should start teaching students soft skills such as compassion, empathy, arts and crafts, etc.; everything that differentiates us from machines.
However, technology is not a threat but a possibility. The evolution of technology, AI and automation offers schools great possibilities to develop their teaching and learning processes into a more learner based direction. A direction that frees up teacher resources from repetitive, manual assessment tasks into giving guidance and personal feedback for students. With that regard teachers might have more time and resource to concentrate giving students a spark to get acquainted with how technology around us actually works and how human touch is still needed to make it work- e.g. by coding. Including coding in education from early on is the first step in get this point across.