No point teaching coding, says Pisa chief

Andreas Schleicher warns that coding - now part of England's national curriculum - 'will be outdated very soon'

Tes Reporter

Andreas Schleicher said coding will be outdated very soon.

Coding will be as irrelevant as trigonometry one day and more focus should be placed on teaching children tools that will benefit them in the future, the official who runs the Pisa global education rankings has said.

Andreas Schleicher, director of education and skills at the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), branded coding a "technique of our times" and said it was unlikely to have any longevity.

Coding was added to the national curriculum in England in 2014, and is expected to be taught to children from the age of 5.

Speaking at the World Innovation Summit for Education (Wise) in Paris, Mr Schleicher, who runs the Programme for International Student Assessment (Pisa) rankings, compared the skill to trigonometry, which has uses that do not necessarily apply any longer.

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Mr Schleicher said: "Five hundred years ago we might have thought about pen literacy.

"In a way coding is just one technique of our times. And I think it would be a bad mistake to have that tool become ingrained.

"You teach it to three-year-olds and by the time they graduate they will ask you, 'Remind me, what was coding.' That tool will be outdated very soon."

'Teach fewer things in greater depth'

Comparing it to trigonometry, he said: "We are going to get into the same dilemma.

"I think it is very important that we strike a better balance about those kinds of things.

"For example, I would be much more inclined to teach data science or computational thinking than to teach a very specific technique of today."

Asked if there was an unfounded fear among young people that they would need skills such as coding to be successful in the future, he said: "By tomorrow they are going to have something else.

"And that's the problem, that's the reason why we have this mile-wide, inch-deep curricula. Precisely because every day there is a new idea that we think is terribly important today, and we don't think the future will be different."

Mr Schleicher said a lot of things taught in the past have no relevance in today's UK education system, and that the trick is to teach fewer things in greater depth.

He continued: "Trigonometry is a good example. If you ask a mathematician if trigonometry is the foundation of mathematics, they will tell you, 'No, it's a specific application.'

"So it has just survived because it used to be relevant in a specific historical context."

The global expert went on to say that education is a "very conservative social environment", and that society is very good at adding things to teach children, but not so good at taking away.

"The trick is to teach fewer things at greater depth – that is really the heart of education success," he concluded.

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