ProgeTiiger Reaffirms Estonia as World's IT Media Darling
Illustration by Toon Vugts
In a public relations coup, the news that the Tiger Leap Foundation is piloting a program designed to teach children as young as first-graders programming and web development skills has become one of the hottest-trending stories about Estonia so far this year.
Wired magazine first wrote about the ProgeTiiger program on September 4, following up on a report in the ubuntulife.net blog, which reported the news directly from the government-sponsored foundation's release. "Does it mean that Estonia will become the first country in the world to teach programming for first graders?" the blog asked.
Media outlets were quick to seize on that angle - the fact that first-graders were being taught to code. Wired went with the headline of "Estonia Reprograms First Graders as Web Coders," although it noted in the article that the classes were not mandatory. Other headlines were "Estonia Prepares for War: Child Soldiers" and "We're Doomed: Tiny Estonia teaching 1st graders to write code."
Forbes magazine - the international, not Estonian version - reported it, saying that Estonia was "already" teaching first-graders how to code. The British Guardian newspaper asked whether UK children should not also be taught coding. Thomas Friedman of the New York Times mentioned the news in a lead of a column, asking whether China would follow suit by teaching computer language to preschoolers.
Fait accompli? Well, not quite yet.
As Tiger Leap's head of training Ave Lauringson has pointed out, the project has yet to begin. The first courses will be for primary school teachers this month, with 30 teachers expected to take part online on the site www.koolielu.ee run by Tiger Leap.
After September, the pilot will start with the elementary grades to increase potential for kids to become not just software consumers but developers. A major aim of the program is also to address what tech companies complain is a current shortage in IT people.
One local technology company who is sponsoring the project emphasized this aspect of the pilot.
"Popularization of IT-related knowledge and skills has been one of the priorities of the Association of Estonian Information Technology and Telecommunications," said Tieto Estonia consultant Raul Ennus in comments to uudised.err.ee. "It is especially positive that the program will, already at the upper secondary school level, be a springboard for acquiring an IT higher education. Tieto Estonia has agreed to be a consultant in preparing the ProgeTiiger textbooks, and I think other IT companies are prepared to come on board."