Those were among the conclusions of a debate at the DHPA Techday, held recently at the Fokker Terminal in The Hague. On the panel for the debate chaired by presenter Chris van 't Hof were Astrid Oosenbrug (Socialist MP), Sebastiaan Assink (Oxilion General Manager), Paul Schnabel (sociologist and Chair of the Education 2032 Platform), Valerie Frissen (CEO of the SIDN Fund and Professor of ICT & Social Change) and Michiel Leenaars (NLnet Foundation's Director of Strategy).
The main conclusions of the debate:
- Programming should be part of the curriculum in primary and secondary schools, as an optional or compulsory subject.
- Closer ties are needed between the ICT sector and the education sector, since education isn't keeping up with business and isn't in tune with professional practice.
- Refresher training should be compulsory for ICT teachers to ensure that their knowledge is up to date.
- Both hard and soft skills are important, the latter particularly for contact with customers.
- Children should be introduced to ICT and technology at primary school, so that they are in a position to choose such subjects later.
Programming at primary school
According to Paul Schnabel, programming has potential benefits beyond the ICT sector. "It teaches you to work methodically, one step at a time, and that helps you avoid frustrations and resolve problems." Socialist MP Astrid Oosenbrug also believes that programming has a place on the curriculum. However, unlike some of the other panel members, she would prefer it to be an optional subject. "Not everyone has to learn to program. The country doesn't need sixteen million programmers, but programming teaches skills that can be useful in any walk of life," commented Oosenbrug.
Education not keeping up with business
The ICT sector, and especially the internet industry, is developing extremely quickly. Unfortunately, education often fails to keep pace with the business community. Sebastiaan Assink therefore believes that the ties between education and practice, particularly the hosting industry, should be much closer. He suggested that all ICT teachers should have to spend some time working as interns at companies like his.
Panel members took the view that ICT teachers needed better training to reduce the gap between the ICT sector and the world of business. Keeping abreast of the rapid developments taking place in the sector was considered particularly important, so that pupils aren't given out-of-date knowledge. Refresher courses should therefore be compulsory for ICT teachers, which isn't always the case at present.
Both hard skills and soft skills are important
In the ICT sector, there is demand for both hard skills, such as maths and writing, and soft skills, such as teamworking and problem-solving. Valerie Frissen emphasised that a balance between the two was very important. Leenaars echoed that view: "95 per cent of the people working in ICT spend all their time configuring hardware and software." Not many do any real engineering.
The debate at the DHPA Techday dovetailed neatly with recent developments relating to the Education 2032 Platform, which is due to advise the government in the autumn about what knowledge and skills school pupils should be learning in order to participate in the society of the future. Programming has an important role to play in that context. That is why Neelie Kroes – former European Commissioner for the Digital Agenda – launched CodePact at the Education 2032 Festival. CodePact is a public-private joint initiative, aimed at giving children the chance to learn to program – something that debating panel members would like to see happening in primary schools.