The European Commission / EACEA / Eurydice report, Informatics education at school in Europe, was published in recent days and it provides a comprehensive comparative analysis of informatics education, as a distinct discipline, in primary and general secondary education in 2020/2021 in 39 education systems. The research is associated with Action 10 in the Digital Education Action Plan, Proposal for a Council recommendation on improving the provision of digital skills in education and training.
How is informatics taught?
- In primary education, informatics is taught as a distinct discipline in 23 education systems. Around half of them provide for a separate informatics subject that is compulsory for all students (although often not in the first grades). More than a quarter of these education systems teach informatics mainly as part of other compulsory subjects. Informatics is an optional subject in only Croatia and Slovenia at this education level. The curricular approach to teaching informatics is decided by schools in Estonia (Chapter 1, Section 1.2)
- In general, lower secondary education, informatics is taught as a distinct discipline in 35 education systems. Around half of them provide for a separate informatics subject that is compulsory for all students (usually in all grades). Approximately a quarter of these education systems teach informatics mainly as part of other compulsory subjects. Informatics is an optional subject in only Ireland, Albania and some German Länder. In the three Communities of Belgium, Estonia and Slovenia, schools decide whether to provide the subject (Chapter 1, Section 1.3)
- In general, upper secondary education, almost all the countries teach informatics as a distinct discipline, and the vast majority include one or more informatics subjects (compulsory and/or optional) in at least one grade. In contrast with lower education levels, it is unusual to teach informatics only as part of other subjects (although some countries combine both approaches) (Chapter 1, Section 4.1)
What is taught?
- In primary education, the most common areas covered in school curricula across Europe are algorithms, programming, and safety and security. Fewer than a third of the European education systems explicitly include in their curricula learning outcomes relating to data and information, networks, and awareness and empowerment. Only a few include learning outcomes relating to computing systems, modelling and simulation, people–system interface, and design and development (see Figure 2.3)
- In general, the teaching of informatics becomes more common from lower secondary education, as is clearly reflected by the significantly higher number of learning outcomes related to the different areas of informatics. At this education level, the majority of European education systems explicitly address the areas of programming, algorithms, safety and security, networks, data and information, awareness and empowerment, and computing systems. However, for the modelling and simulation, people– system interface, and design and development areas, this is the case only in fewer than a quarter of European education systems (see Figure 2.4)
- In upper secondary education, more than 30 European education systems explicitly include the areas of algorithms, programming, and safety and security. A majority of education systems also address networks, data and information, awareness and empowerment, and computing systems. The three remaining areas – design and development, modelling and simulation, and people–system interface – are included in more than a dozen education systems, which is more than at lower levels of education (see Figures 2.3 and 2.4). Unlike in primary and lower secondary education, where learning outcomes tend to be compulsory for all students, at this education level often only students choosing the optional informatics subjects pursue those learning outcomes. Still, more than a dozen countries cover a comprehensive range of areas in compulsory informatics subjects (see Figure 2.5).
Who is teaching Informatics?
- At the level of primary education, generalist teachers are usually responsible for teaching informatics. This confirms the general trend in Europe that generalist teachers hold responsibility for providing the entire or almost entire curriculum in primary education. In some education systems, mainly in the eastern and south-eastern parts of Europe (see Figure 3.1), specialist informatics teachers or teachers specialised in other school disciplines can also teach informatics. This is usually the case in countries where informatics is taught as a separate subject. However, in primary schools, education systems rarely require teachers to have a qualification in informatics. This is the case only in Greece, Montenegro and Turkey
- In both lower and upper general secondary education, all education systems require informatics to be taught by specialist informatics teachers or teachers qualified in other subjects taught in secondary schools (see Figures 3.2 and 3.3). This is possibly due to the greater complexity of informatics concepts, methods, knowledge and learning outcomes at this education level.
Preparing Teachers to Teach Informatics
- To prepare specialist informatics teachers for their future role and responsibilities, all education systems at all levels of education have in place at least one professional development scheme. In almost all education systems, specialist informatics teachers can obtain their qualification through mainstream initial teacher education (ITE).
- Almost all education systems in Europe give in-service teachers the opportunity to undertake training on a variety of subjects related to informatics, usually as part of the regular continuing professional development (CPD). Moreover, Germany, Czechia, Estonia, Ireland, Croatia, Cyprus, Latvia, Lithuania, Luxembourg and Malta, have developed ad hoc training as part of the CPD of teachers to accompany the reforms introducing or updating the informatics curriculum. Many education systems have also developed a wide range of teaching materials for informatics teachers (see Figure 3.7).
- To accompany curricular reforms, Czechia, Estonia, Ireland and Croatia have implemented a comprehensive set of support measures. For example, in addition to teacher training and pedagogical resources, Czechia and Ireland have set up specific professional networks and platforms to facilitate collaboration and exchange of information and best practices between teachers.
This report captures the state of play in relation to teaching informatics or computer science content across education systems in Europe and it relates directly to Action 10 of the DEAP. The European Commission is currently developing a proposal for a Council Recommendations on improving the provision of digital skills in education and training in Quarter 1 of 2023. Thus, there is an expectation that Informatics and the teaching of digital skills will increase in Irish schools into the future. We should expect that young people, right across the system, will begin to develop a range of digital skills and we should also expect that greater numbers will take Computer Science at Senior Cycle level. For this to occur there will need to be greater linkages between, primary, Junior Cycle and Senior Cycle in relation to Informatics education. We will also need to continue supporting all teachers, generalists and specialists, in how to develop digital skills in an engaging way. Ireland is well positioned to expand informatics education for all our students, so they are equipped with the knowledge and skills to live and work in an increasingly digital world.