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The inclusion of programming in the compulsory school curriculum

Research project

Head of project

Peter Vinnervik
Associate professor

Project overview

Project period:

2016-09-05 2021-02-28

Participating departments and units at Umeå University

Department of Science and Mathematics Education, Faculty of Science and Technology

Research area

Educational sciences

Project description

In 2015, the Ministry of Education and Research (Utbildningsdepartementet) appointed the National Agency for Education (NAE) to propose a new national IT strategy for the entire Swedish school system and also to propose changes to curricula and syllabi in order to reinforce and clarify programming as curriculum content. Programming is attributed the ability to function as a tool that provide pupils with essential knowledge to handle their digital everyday lives, digital tools and also practice logical thinking. Furthermore, programming is considered to be the particular content that can spark an early interest for technology, especially amongst girls and eventually there will be more female applicants for technology oriented higher education programmes. In March 2016 NAE presented their proposal for strengthening the digital competence at all levels of the Swedish school system, teachers, pupils, but also at management level. During 2016, NAE worked its way through the national curriculum for compulsory school, Lgr11, substantial parts of the curriculum was “digitally remodelled” and programming added as core content to mathematics and technology. The government gave its approval in March 2017 and a new national curriculum, Lgr11 revision 2017, was released soon after. In October 2017 the Ministry of Education and Research established the new national strategy for school digitalisation which encapsulates the government’s ambitions for the Swedish school system, with the overall goal to be “world leading at exploiting the opportunities of digitalisation in order to attain high digital competence amongst children and students and to promote knowledge development and school equity”.

The 2014 evaluation of technology education in compulsory school made by the Swedish Schools Inspectorate pointed out an undesirable abundance of unreflected activity in the technology classroom, the learning goals and contexts of the activities are not made clear enough. The evaluation also reveals that teachers, both qualified and unqualified, express uncertainty about the subject’s distinctive characteristics and overall purpose and how to teach the subject matter. The evaluation report further reveals that "teachers with insufficient skills often, and unreflected, rely on pre-made teaching materials", something that may undermine the purpose, core content and learning goals of the subject, but can be avoided by having teachers who are well-acquainted with the purpose and methods of the subject matter and who can assess the appropriateness of teaching materials. This illuminates an already existing need for professional development amongst technology teachers.

In a debate article published on the Swedish teacher union Lärarnas Riksförbund (LR) website, the union chairman Åsa Fahlén refers to a survey amongst primary school mathematics teachers which reveals that 7 out of 10 mathematics teachers (grade 7-9) lack any kind of formal schooling in programming, and that 8 out of 10 express uncertainty or great uncertainty how to teach about and with programming (2017). NAE emphasizes that school and district level administrators both have to encourage and create room (time and quite possibly also money for physical or digital tools) for teachers’ professional development, but there is no extra government funding reserved to support such activities. Added to this, Swedish universities that provide teacher education have been slow to react and there is good reason to believe that most pre-service training programmes have yet to implement changes accordingly to the requirements of the new curriculum regarding both programming and overall digitalisation aspects.

In figures, approximately 50-60 000 in-service mathematics and technology teachers are asked to pursue their professional development by studying programming to some extent in addition to their previously completed teacher programme. The same applies for many of the student teachers who graduate in the near future.

The research project has two aims, one is to describe teachers' professional development opportunities regarding programming and the second objective is to second is to identify, describe and analyse the process which forms actual classroom activities and how teachers perceive the process.

Latest update: 2018-06-20