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School reforms to bring digital education and coding lessons to primary schools

by Emilio Cozzi

In mid-October, eighty children invaded the halls of Montecitorio, Italy’s lower chamber, to learn the basics of programming with Scratch, a software developed at MIT in Boston to create a videogame thanks to a simple and fun tool. An open source movement called CoderDojo was interested in showing the political world what “coding” is all about.

Italy is preparing to introduce digital education in primary schools. The goal is already set out in the guidelines for school reform presented by the minister of Education. The same minister launched “Programming the future,” a project with the National University Technology Consortium, that aims to have so-called “computing logic” in 40% of primary schools by 2017.

“It's not simply about teaching kids how to use specific languages, but to transmit the fundamental logic of a new grammar, one that requires analysis, taking apart problems and the ability to resolve them in a creative way. Something essential, useful to everyone. So much the better if you can learn it through a videogame,” says Stefano Quintarelli, a member of Parliament and pioneer of the roll-out of the Internet in Italy.

The CoderDojo movement started in Ireland three years ago. It promotes and creates free programming clubs in more than 40 countries. In Italy it's present with about 40 groups. An active industry is growing up around it. Digital Academy sells classes for kids three years and up. The youngest get to use robots who can teach them technology. From 2011, there's Digital Native Camp, a full-immersion, residential summer program that might soon be expanding into the school year, during the week or on weekends.

In February, Codemotion Kids starts in Rome and Milan, the Italian version of the biggest international technology conference that offer courses. In Rome at the Maker Fair in late September, some 5,000 children attended workshops organized for the event.

At Cagliari's Open Campus, the laboratory of Tiscali, Alice Soru, the daughter of Tiscali's founder, started Cagliari Code Week at the end of October. It's a week of events dedicated to the all ages which more than 400 people took part in.

“Innovation and training new generations is an investment, but knowing the basics of programming today shouldn't only be viewed as an essential duty by those who work in the field. Today, technological competence is an indispensable tool to understanding reality,” she said.