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Mandatory IT teaching in schools: Pressure grows in Germany

The country's SPD party is calling for computer science to be taught to all German schoolchildren.

The vast majority of Germans want more computer science in schools, and the country's social democratic party (SPD) is preparing to give it to them. At the party's parliamentary meeting last week in Mainz, the SPD proposed a position paper calling for mandatory computer science courses at all grade levels.

"We want to overcome the digital divide between young and old, rich and poor, between the city and the countryside," the SPD declared. "This means that all schools, vocational training, and adult education as well as higher education, must face digitisation."

The SPD envisions that compulsory computer science "in all schools and for all ages" would include teaching programming languages, a basic understanding of the legal and technical structures around networks, and "the logic of algorithms".

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Nearly seven out of ten Germans believe that computer science and other digital subjects should be taught more in schools, even if it means cutting back on other activities such as sports, music, or religion, according to a survey commissioned by the German digital industry group Bitkom.

The push for computer science in schools follows Bitkom's critique of the government's Digital Agenda, which included compulsory computer science among its list of recommendations for improvement.

Bitkom welcomed the SPD's call for mandatory computer science. "IT skills are now as important as the basics," said Bitkom president Thorsten Dirks. "Digitisation determines our everyday lives more and more, for leisure time as well as for work. Schools must teach about media literacy beyond the classroom and give students a firm grasp of IT technologies. For this, we need compulsory computer science lessons -- in all provinces."

The Geschallschaft fuer Informatik (the German Informatics Society or GI) has also issued its own call for more computer science in schools even before the SPD position paper appeared.

"Children should not only play with digital products but also get a basic understanding of their functioning while at school," said Peter Liggesmeyer, GI president. "Programming also teaches essential skills such as attention, planning and reasoning, which are conducive to children's development."

When it comes to digital literacy, German students were found to be about average compared to their peers in other countries, according to the International Computer and Information Literacy Study announced last year. German eighth graders scored an average of 523 points on the international test, much higher than the worldwide average of 500, but in the middle of their peer group in the European Union.

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