Estonian children will learn coding from the age of seven

Estonia's education experiment a lesson for Europe

Estonia is seeking to teach children computer coding from the age of seven.

The Tiigrihüppe (Tiger Leap) foundation, which has been involved with Estonian e-initiatives since 1996, is piloting the ProgeTiigri project, teaching seven-year-olds to code as part of the standard curriculum.

The project is being trialled in a small number of schools starting this term in Grade 1, and expects eventually to cover the whole country and all age groups as more teachers are trained and study materials prepared.

Bigger European countries will be watching the experiment closely, to see if yet another Estonian initiative is going to set the standard for future technology.

The tiny Baltic country of 1.3 million people has long led the way on issues like e-government and e-health.

When Estonia won its independence from the Soviet Union in 1991, its economy produced very little and its people went hungry following the collapse of the Soviet economy and food and goods distribution systems.

However, with access to Finnish TV (the languages are closely related) and many emigrants settled in Sweden and Finland, coupled with a very youthful leadership, with ministers in their 20s and early 30s, the country set out to become as positive to technology and innovation as Scandinavia, but with greater resourcefulness.

Estonians had been brought up in a society where improvisation became important when dealing with Soviet bureaucracy and frequent Soviet equipment breakdowns. So, within years of independence, Estonia streamlined its bureaucracy to make it easy to start up new firms.

A flat income tax was introduced to encourage entrepreneurs. A programming culture evolved which eventually led to the KaZaa peer-to-peer software and the Skype video-telecoms system. Skype may have been co-founded by Swedish and Danish entrepreneurs, but it was Estonian engineers who built it.

E-government and e-services were pushed too. The government went online early, and the country pioneered electronic signatures, online banking services, mobile phone payments for car parking and Internet voting in national elections.

An e-health system allowed people to read their health details and order prescribed medicines online.

Finally the government introduced the e-school platform, which offered a 24-hour classroom where students could check their test results and do other school-related business.

The development of computer skills among the population is seen by many governments as key to 21st century prosperity. Coding teaches students how to think analytically, which is useful even if programming doesn't suit the student's career path.

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