Anyone who attends school in Germany can learn a lot. However, computer science skills that would be appropriate for the all-pervasive digitization of everyday life or the world of work will not be part of it for the majority of students in 2023.
While in Greece, Hungary or Poland, for example, primary school girls already find an independent compulsory subject of computer science in the timetable, this is not the case in any of the 16 federal states in Germany. Between the fifth and tenth grades, students in a single federal state receive compulsory computer science instruction throughout: Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania. In Saxony, computer science is an independent compulsory subject from grade 7 to grade 10.
In a quarter of the federal states, it is at least languishing as a comprehensive elective subject, another third does not even have an optional computer science offer for all pupils. This finding is frightening, and this horror is even greater when one considers that the expansion of computer science education has been debated for years, but little has happened and even less improved.
Computer science skills as important as mathematics
Now, it is not the case that dealing with social media, software, the Internet, laptops or smartphones does not play a role at German schools today. As a cross-cutting topic, some subjects, and then especially particularly committed teachers, take up basic informational knowledge in their lessons and strive to pass it on to the pupils.
But precisely because digitization has already covered large areas of life and algorithms have arrived in everyday life, cross-sectional switching should not stop – especially if applications based on artificial intelligence continue to spread, keyword: ChatGPT.
In the information age, which has been going on for several decades, computer science skills have a similar status as mathematical knowledge. And for good reason, the school system does not leave this to subjects such as physics, chemistry or economics as a by-product, just because the students there calculate from time to time. Whether compulsory or not – there is one thing parents and their school-age children should not hope for: that the computer crisis in the country will be alleviated all too quickly.
On the contrary, the misery could even worsen by the end of the current decade. This is due to the inertia of the federal school system in Germany. Saarland, Schleswig-Holstein and Lower Saxony want to introduce a compulsory subject of computer science at their secondary schools from the next school year – but only gradually. Until the time comes for all grades, entire classes will continue to leave school without dedicated computer science skills.
Basic rule: It is paid with data
Added to this is the shortage of teachers. In the MINT subject group of mathematics, computer science, natural sciences and technology, it is already large compared to other subject groups, but it is particularly blatant in computer science. According to a forecast by the Telekom Foundation, North Rhine-Westphalia, for example, will only be able to cover a fraction of the necessary recruitment needs for computer science teachers at secondary schools in the 2030/31 school year. If this scenario actually occurs, 100 out of 94 advertised computer science teaching positions in Germany's most populous state will remain vacant. According to the study, the shortage in other federal states could be similarly serious.
If you want to equip your children with computer science knowledge, you have to become active yourself. At the beginning, this includes questioning one's own behavior in the digital space – and reminding oneself of the basic rule of the Internet age: If a service or software is free, the user pays with his data – and is often the product himself.
Even if this sounds all too familiar to you: This realization is the first step out of the involuntary informational immaturity – of parents and children. Another would be for parents or guardians to expand their computer science knowledge, for example with the help of beginner's literature. Then children and parents could use special software or apps to lay the foundations of algorithms and programming together in a playful way. In the end, there could be a paid course. All this costs money and time, is tedious, but also useful – and maybe even fun.