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Estonia plans entire generation of super coders

by Dave Tinneny | 05.09.2012
‘What did you do in school today, Toomas?’
‘Well, I finally fixed out that bug on my website and helped Ingrid with her new iPhone App. Then we traded our sticker collections for an hour’

That’s the future for schools in Estonia as announced here yesterday. The small Baltic state is implementing an education programme that aims to have all publically educated students learning to code from the moment they start the first grade (around the age of 7 or 8).
Titled ‘ProgeTiiger’, the government hopes to fill the dearth of programmers in a country with a remarkably well developed tech economy. Estonian developers laid the foundations for Skype and a number of tech start-ups have followed in its wake. As with any tech intensive area, finding enough talented programmers is always a challenge.
Having lived there myself for two years, I can personally attest to the country’s embrace of all things digital. When I first came to the UK, it was quite a surprise to find old fashioned things like phone numbers, stamps, queuing and general inconvenient paperwork still very much in use.
Estonia is a small nation of less than 1.5 million people who are fiercely independent and proud of their culture. I struggle to think of another European country who would invest in such a long term strategy for their future, in the midst of a crippling worldwide recession.
By contrast, I remember being told during my own school days in Ireland that by the time the board of education could agree on a syllabus, technology would have progressed to the point where the lessons would be obsolete by the time they’d eventually reach the schools!
My personal belief is that this will be recognised as an incredibly significant moment for the country in years to come. There is only one downside that I can see. If the country starts producing large numbers of talented programmers, how will it keep them there once Google and Facebook start offering US visa sponsorships?