Computer science in the classroom: is the code still on the agenda?


With the democratization of computing in the early 1980s, the question of teaching it at school came up regularly. The first mention of IT in school curricula dates from 1985, with the aim of making CM1 and CM2 students understand its impact on society and its basic principles. This is how the LOGO language , developed at MIT, appeared in schools to introduce children to programming through play.

But the new programs, initiated in 1995 no longer integrate this learning of computer design and focus more on technologies from the user’s point of view, with the discovery of office tools and the Internet, skills which are elsewhere at the heart of B2I certification , a patent aimed at certifying middle school students’ mastery of multimedia tools.

From 2013, the Academy of Sciences pleaded for a teaching of computer science from primary to high school, but it will be necessary to wait until the start of the 2014 school year for introductory courses in code to be offered again at school, while remaining optional. and provided during extracurricular time. And it was finally at the start of the 2016 school year that these lessons were integrated into the programs, from CM1 to the baccalaureate, and follow the logic set out in the report of the Academy of Sciences in 2013, with an “awareness” phase. in primary, an “evolution towards autonomy” in college and an “improvement” in high school.

Programming logic

Although not appearing as such in the curricula, certain skills in the CE1 and CE2 mathematics curriculum provide an introduction to computer logic. These are, for example, exercises requiring the coding of movements in a grid.

From CM1 to sixth, computer science lessons are found in two components of the official program. In “Science and technology” lessons, students learn to “use digital tools to communicate results, process data, simulate phenomena, represent technical objects and identify reliable sources of information”. Here we find the “use” oriented lessons that existed in the previous programs. The new programs integrate in the “Mathematics” part the resolution of problems by using multiple data or by building an approach requiring several stages. This teaching, which can be done with or without a computer, lays the groundwork for programming logic and represents an introduction to computer science.

From the fifth grade, and until the end of middle school, the lessons always integrate this double dimension use/programming. Thus, students must be able to use digital representation tools, whether as an oral presentation support, for data collection, or to perform digital simulations. The programs also include mastery of the basic principles of algorithms and coding with the aim of solving simple problems.

The deepening of the learning of programming begins in high school, with the introduction in the programs of specific vocabulary such as variables, instructions, conditions or even loops. The Python language is used to apply the principles learned because of its simplicity.

Integrating IT and especially programming into the programs poses many difficulties. The first pitfall concerns the equipment available in the establishments. As indicated by the Ministry of National Education, great disparities exist between establishments, particularly in high schools. In a report published in 2019, the Court of Auditors confirmed “strong inequalities in the equipment of classes and pupils between the territories”, which are highly detrimental to the implementation of teaching.

Teacher training

Another problem is the lack of training for teachers, most of whom have no computer training. The Academy of Sciences, in its 2013 report, insisted on this prerequisite to guarantee the success of the introduction of these courses in the programs. This pitfall is particularly important at the primary level, the same teacher having to master all the subjects. But a significant number of teachers, who are very enthusiastic about this new teaching , are also at the initiative of innovative, often multidisciplinary projects.

To help teachers who are less comfortable, the Ministry of National Education and Youth supports many projects intended to help them implement the program , such as the Class’Code project, which offers online lessons MOOC (Massive Open Online Course) type. Training is also offered, in particular with the M@gistère system which offers numerous courses.

Beyond these initiatives supported by the Ministry, other associations offer content or training, such as the EPI association ( Public education and computing ), founded in 1971 to promote the teaching of computing in the public service. of teaching. University initiatives complement the support available to teachers, such as the PixelArt application developed by the University of Nantes and tested with primary school students in 2021.

Feedback from these different initiatives is positive and provides teachers with essential support to be able to ensure the quality of the courses offered. We can also note that these skills are included in the training of future school teachers. A “digital and computer science” CAPES (certificate of aptitude for secondary school teaching) has also been created. From the start of the 2020 academic year, teachers specializing in these disciplines will therefore be integrated into the college and high school levels. An improvement in the computer equipment of schools, colleges and high schools remains

Author Bio: Delphine Billouard-Fuentes is an Associate Professor at EM Lyon