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Youth coding clubs to be established to produce skilled programmers

  • September 14, 2017
  • , Nikkei evening edition , p. 1
  • JMH Translation

The Ministry of Internal Affairs and Communications (MIC) will take an active role in developing the digital skills of primary and middle school children as the Internet of Things (IoT), a network of interconnected devices, becomes more widespread. Computer programming will be a compulsory part of Japan’s elementary school education from 2020. The ministry will support the opening of coding classes outside of schools all across Japan by providing the necessary instructors and hardware. It is aiming for the establishment of 10,000 classes by 2023 to develop children’s skills to secure future engineering specialists who can compete in an increasingly competitive world.


A total of 22 coding club teams, two teams per Telecommunications Bureau zone, will be established after piloting the concept for two years starting in FY2018. The existing private coding classes will also be surveyed. Associated costs will be incorporated in the FY2018 budget. MIC will spend five years after that encouraging the nationwide establishment of coding clubs.


The coding clubs will be taught by practicing programmers. Children will learn how to code through the development of smart phone apps and self-driving drone programs using simple programming language. The aim is to develop applied skills through the basic building blocks of programming.


The government will request IT-related companies to provide programmers and engineers. Through local education boards, it will also request schools equipped with programming facilities to make their spaces available after school for the clubs.


IT-savvy students and seniors will be leveraged as instructors in rural regions without qualified teaching staff. The government will provide the necessary coding hardware such as computers and tablets.


Training and guidance will be provided to those who wish to open and operate the clubs, including operation and rule-making standards. Knowledge and performance assessment opportunities in the form of national competitions are also being considered.


Although the government will make programming classes mandatory in elementary schools from 2020, MIC believes compulsory education alone will not be sufficient to develop advanced digital skills. That is why it wants to make extracurricular options available to develop applied skills.


In the same way that youth teams produce world-class athletes in baseball or soccer, the government hopes to train the best crop of programmers in the world. Both baseball and soccer have a very broad base nationwide for developing star players, with some 20,000 and 16,000 youth teams respectively.


Programming clubs are becoming a global trend. The UK boasts 6,000, while Estonia, a pioneer in e-government, has more than 100. In these countries, this is roughly one youth coding group for every 10,000 people. MIC’s target of developing 10,000 programming clubs is based on the same formula, one group per 10,000. This is about the same as the number of middle schools in Japan.


It is estimated that roughly 30 billion IoT devices will be connected to the Internet by 2020. While the skills to create a sound network base will become increasingly important in a world where unprecedented amounts of data are exchanged, there will not be enough data technicians to meet demand. MIC hopes to develop a system to produce young programmers who will be able to compete on an increasingly competitive global stage.

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