1 - Executive Summary
Political momentum around coding skills development is becoming increasingly strong in Europe and worldwide. Numerous initiatives to promote and teach coding are led by national governments, private and non-governmental stakeholders and academia; the European Commission also takes an active role in these endeavours. In order to ensure that these skills are developed in a consistent and high-quality manner, a standardised approach is needed. This paper consists of three key parts: first, it clarifies the terminology around coding, programming, computer
science, computing and digital literacy; second, it provides an overview of various approaches to coding skills development in different countries; third, it suggests that every child should have an opportunity to learn the essentials of computing and that coding should be taught as part of computing. This paper calls for a unified approach to digital
skills development that would encompass digital literacy as well as computing.
2 Defining the Terms
Coding, programming, computer science, computing and computational thinking: all of these terms are often used interchangeably to discuss digital skills development. In order to clarify these terms, we
will use the existing working definitions provided below.
Computer programming is the process of developing and implementing various sets of instructions to enable a computer to perform a certain task, solve problems, and provide human interactivity. These instructions (source codes which are written in a programming language) are considered computer programs and help the computer to operate smoothly.
Coding on a technical level is a type of computer programming that closely represents what happens at the lowest (machine) level. However, when most people talk about coding, they usually mean something at a higher, more human-readable level. The terms programming and coding are usually used interchangeably (they are also used as synonyms in this paper).
Informatics is defined as the study of the representation, processing and communication of information in natural and engineered systems. It has computational, cognitive and social aspects. Informatics encompasses a number of existing academic disciplines including artificial intelligence, cognitive science and computer science. Thus, in English-language texts, informatics is a broader concept than computer science. However, in other languages the term informatics is used interchangeably with computer science: in German, Informatik; in French, informatique; and in Italian, informatica.
Computer science is an academic discipline covering principles such as algorithms, data structures, programming, systems architecture, design, problem solving, etc. Computer science encompasses foundational principles (such as a theory of computation) and widely applicable ideas and concepts (such as the use of relational models to capture structure in data).
Computing is the term which in digital skills debate is often used interchangeably with the term ‘computer science’. In this paper, we also use these terms as synonyms: Defining the terms, computer science/computing and digital literacy). In the UK, computing is defined as a broad subject area that encompasses both computer science and digital literacy.
Computational thinking is a problem solving process which lies at the heart of computer science. Computational thinking involves formulating problems in a way that enables the use of a computer to solve them; logically organising and analysing data, representing data through abstractions, automating solutions through algorithmic thinking; identifying, analysing, and implementing possible solutions with the goal of achieving the most efficient and effective combination of steps and resources; generalising and transferring this problem solving process to a wide variety of problems, etc.
Digital literacy – basic set of skills required to participate in essential ICT user activities. Typical skills would include the ability to work with numbers and documents (software such as word processors and spreadsheets) and the ability to use a web browser, e-mail and internet search engines securely and effectively.
These definitions outline two different digital skills areas – computing/computer science and digital literacy. Both of them should be developed in formal education. Digital literacy skills are as important as reading and writing — it is necessary to possess them in order to access all the subjects taught across the curriculum. Programming/coding is among the key elements such as algorithms and systems architecture that together form the academic discipline of computer science.
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