Curriculum 21 and computer science, can the industry breathe a sigh of relief?

Pilot, astronaut, car mechanic, locomotive driver! This is what enthusiastic primary school pupils sound like when asked about their professional wishes. They seem to know exactly what they want to become later. The most common occupations have to do with science or technology (Martin Süess, 2013).

On closer inspection, you will find a number of offers on the subject of education and technology in order to familiarize the students with these areas very early on. These offers are often fully booked and attract a great deal of interest from young people. An example of such offers are organized craft afternoons, which are based, among other things, on the initiative of the CSEM (Centre Suisse d’Electronique et de Microtechnique). CSEM is the research center for micro, nano and communication technology that has emerged from the watch industry. The research centre accompanies students throughout the afternoons, for example when building a light barrier. Each student is brought a kit. PRINTED circuit boards, circuit boards, diodes, transistors, switches, current and all the elements needed for the transmitter and receiver of an infrared signal. But what the children are most happy about this afternoon, they are allowed to try themselves with soldering iron and wire.

In the field of education, there are a number of initiatives to promote interest in science and computer science, such as the Simply Science Foundation, Science Industries, the Association of Swiss Chemical, Pharmaceutical and Biotech Companies, or the explore-it project. At explore-it, neglected technical topics are packed into exciting courses in elementary school. Together with Swissmem, the industry association of the machinery, electrical and metal industry, this offer was created for students, which is fully booked within hours.

All these courses enjoy a great demand and basically young people are interested in technology – whether thanks to such projects or because they like to deal with technical questions anyway. A study by the Swiss Academies of Arts and Sciences states that young people are very open to technical issues.

This, on the other hand, is astonishing when attention is paid to the media and the much-discussed topic of “skills shortage in Switzerland” (SECO, 2014). Letters to the readers are published, which justify the shortage of skilled workers in scientific and technical fields in Switzerland with the lack of interest of the students. Others call on all those involved in politics, business and education to take action: to start as early as possible and to address the fields of technology and science before lower secondary school.

Is it possible that interest is under-expressed and that many young people would not, in the end, aspire to a suitable profession? Do the scientific and technical fields therefore have an image problem?

In today’s supplementary subject computer science, an additional subject that can be taken voluntarily by high school students, the contents are not defined in detail and the individual schools interpret the contents differently. It is also considered by students to be an extended teaching of mathematics.

However, this is now changing, as nature and technology gain more weight in the new curriculum 21. Will curriculum 21 make everything better and can the information and communication technology (ICT) industry breathe a sigh of relief because high school students will increasingly opt for ICT occupations and training?

The following arguments are discussed as to why computer science is so central in today’s primary and lower secondary education. The new situation is listed in curriculum 21 and the opportunities and dangers for the ICT industry are finally discussed.

The additional research gave a comprehensive impression of the situation of computer science under the new curriculum. The results of the interviews, the theoretical basis of the curriculum and my personal experiences in the ICT industry are interpreted with the chapter deductively.

Today’s situation of computer science education

The supplementary subject computer science is now an additional subject, which can be chosen voluntarily by high school students. The middle schools themselves determined the content of the process (SVIA, 2013). Depending on the school building, the focus is mostly on general education and topics that were strongly related to mathematics, such as programming a calculator that dominates the Pythagoras or then on much more scientific computer science topics.

Marc Kummer, Head of The Middle School and Vocational Training Office, told the NZZ: “All schools have so far adhered to the framework curriculum and all curricula have therefore been approved.” Since it is a voluntary subject which does not attract an excessive number of pupils in this form, there are secondary schools which offer it in conjunction with other cantonal schools. The interpretation of today’s content has a great deal of room for manoeuvre.

As a basis for the curriculum, all timetables of the participating cantons were analysed in the summer of 2007 by the collection and evaluation of the compulsory elective area of the nine compulsory school years.

Reason for more weight in computer science lessons

Media and computer science shape society in business, politics and culture and more and more in the personal world. The transition to an information society affects school in several respects. Without a time frame for these new ICT competences, there is a risk that the systematic and expert transfer of the relevant skills will not be guaranteed in terms of time and quality. Different areas of competence can be distinguished, all of which are necessary in order to be able to deal with digital skills.

Based on these competences, arguments can be found as to why, first and foremost, ICT should be more demanded by schools. Two perspectives on computer science training are discussed below:

Career perspective

The profession and the study require competences in the fields of ICT, media and computer science. Skills in ICT, media and informatics play an important role in vocational education and training and general education schools. Almost every profession today requires these skills. Primary and lower secondary education must ensure that, at the end of compulsory schooling, pupils can make meaningful use of ICT and the media in a secondary school and at work, and that they can use concepts of computer science to develop solutions in a wide range of areas of life.

From the current SECO study on the subject of a shortage of skilled workers in Swiss computer science, all indicators point to a shortage of skilled workers in the ICT sector. The coverage ratio (DQ) is below average, immigration (ZW) is extremely high, the unemployment rate (ALQ) is very low and the vacancy rate (QoS) is higher than the average.

Teaching and learning perspective

However, it would be wrong to look at the professional perspective in isolation, because it is necessary to convey content that fits the ICT industry and can spark enthusiasm for computer science during compulsory schooling.

ICT, media and computer science have fundamentally changed our everyday lives and will continue to do so in the future, and it is obvious that general educational objectives beyond these areas are also subject to change. The world of work is increasingly calling for the automation of processes (Statistics Switzerland, 2012 and the processing of the high flood of information. These situations are increasingly being solved by digital tools, and societal change requires a new orientation and lifelong learning. These competences are therefore to be introduced more and more in compulsory schooling. The increasing importance of ICT therefore also requires a reorientation of all departments and a strengthening of multidisciplinary competences.

It is not boring programming that is required, but exciting experimentation, as mentioned at the beginning, therefore, the courses are fully booked and the students are motivated. Education must awaken the spirit of discovery and create further opportunities for those students who want to engage in the ICT world in greater depth. In the end, this must be done before the vocational course is set by the pupils.

However, ICT, media and computer science continue to offer a wide range of opportunities for teachers and learners. Internet on desktop and smartphones, but also audio devices and other technical devices offer a wide range of potentials for new e-learning processes. The changed requirements for the general educational objectives require appropriate teaching methods and the use of modern media. A modern school makes use of these potentials in a situation-oriented manner and conveys them in a step-by-step manner.

Definition of terms Curriculum 21

The following chapter discusses curriculum 21. The following terms are specified in this section. The general term information and communication technologies (ICT) disappears from the curriculum with the new module “Media and Informatics”.

According to the educator Franz E. Weinert, skills, skills and knowledge include skills, skills and knowledge, but also the willingness, attitudes and attitudes that students must have in order to cope with new requirements. Curriculum 21 is based on this concept of competence.

Competence orientation focuses more on the applicability of knowledge, skills and skills. The acquisition of competence or the degree of achievement is reflected in the way in which a task is successfully accomplished.

Multidisciplinary competences are personal, social and methodological competences that

trained in all disciplines. They are to be understood as generalized proceeds of dealing with cultural content.

The timetable sets out the number of hours per week or, if necessary, per year or cycle, that pupils are taught in a subject area. The timetables are set by the cantons.

The HarmoS Concordat provides the legal basis for the development and future application of national educational objectives for compulsory schooling.

According to HarmoS, the primary school includes the first eight years of schooling, including two years of kindergarten. Lower secondary education is followed by primary education and lasts until the end of compulsory schooling. Upper secondary education is a school level following compulsory schooling. Upper secondary education includes general education (specialist secondary schools and grammar schools) and vocational schools.


The Conference of Educational Directors of German-speaking Switzerland has released curriculum 21 for introduction. The decision was almost unanimous by 19 votes to 0 with two abstentions. Curriculum 21 aims to harmonise Swiss schools. However, the topic of computer science in the classroom was controversial in the previous proposal for the uniform curriculum for all 21 German-Speaking cantons. In the first draft of the new curriculum, ICT and the media were only a multidisciplinary competence. The individual teachers should have decided for themselves when and in which subject they would like to teach students about ICT and new media. According to ICTswitzerland, the ICT umbrella organisation of associations as well as the provider and user companies in the Swiss ICT industry, this would be particularly devastating if less technology-savvy teachers were to miss out. This is why business, education and politics worked to teach basic computer science skills earlier and deeper. For example, ETH professor Juraj Hromkovic presaged: “It needs the importance of a school subject of its own” (Hromkovic, 2013).

The current curriculum 21 will contain this importance and integrate user knowledge into existing subjects. Machine writing, for example, is to be integrated into non-computer science lessons. In addition, we will be firmly included in the primary school programming. Simple programs should be written and curiosity aroused. From the third grade onwards, Swiss students will be able to deal with computers and new media during one lesson per week. Otherwise, the primary school pupils should focus on dealing with the new media – which of course offers endless possibilities. In lower secondary education, algorithms, programming and computer technologies are then explained with more depth. From high school onwards, the curriculum of the expert group of the German-Swiss Conference of Education Directors is then included.

The module Media and Informatics is now available. This is not about pure application competences, but also about conceptual knowledge. The future students of the elementary school will therefore learn how systems are structured and how to program them.

Curriculum 21 also defines three skills that future students should acquire:

  • You can present, structure, and evaluate data from the environment.
  • You can analyze simple problems, describe possible solution procedures and implement them in programs.
  • They understand the structure and functioning of information processing systems and can apply concepts of secure data processing.

This means that computer science is no longer a multidisciplinary topic, but has been given its own vessel and is now to be taught by appropriately trained teachers. In the 5. and 6th grade and in lower secondary education, two annual weekly lessons on media and computer science should be included in the timetable. Among other things, students should learn to write simple computer programs. They are familiarized with algorithms very early on.


ICT competences are to be anchored in curriculum 21. Today, competences in the field of the information world have the same importance as competences in the field of physics, chemistry or biology. It is therefore an extremely positive development that the current curriculum 21 with a multidisciplinary sub-curriculum is given competences in the field of ICT and media. The curriculum 21 also takes up current developments in the international environment and is a success for the original demands of ICTswitzerland. The Commission has been a strong advocate for computer science not only to be taught across disciplines as a pure user knowledge, but also to become part of basic training in Switzerland in the future. The question now is when and how exactly the cantons will implement Curriculum 21, because this is up to them. In addition, the pedagogical universities are now required because teachers have to learn the art of “programming teaching”. In addition, new teaching materials must now also be created and their quality and attractiveness depends on how well the computer science modules are received by schools, teachers and, not least, pupils, as explained by the introductory example of the extended math sand.

Last but not least, each canton must now decide whether and how it will introduce the nationally harmonised curriculum. The canton of Aargau will not introduce it until around 2020, while other cantons will introduce it as early as August 2017. And it is also up to them how the cantons want to shape the curriculum. It will therefore be seen whether they really want to sacrifice two hours of a traditional subject in favour of media and computer science. This also depends on the teachers available, who need to be trained accordingly and do not design an extended teaching of mathematics.

To support this, the COMPUTER science trainer will become a specialist group of the SI, the Swiss Informatics Society, from the beginning of 2015. The common voice has now become very important, according to the official communication of the SI. The curriculum must now be implemented as sensibly as possible in the individual cantons. The SVIA is responsible, among other things, for the Swiss Day for Computer Science Lessons. The experts will therefore not run out of work even after the adoption of Curriculum 21.


Today’s young people have the opportunity to familiarize themselves with ICT topics at a very early stage through educational opportunities and use this very well. There is a lot of interest, but young people still do not decide on a suitable profession or study course. The shortage of skilled workers in Switzerland still exists.

Thus, the question whether the ICT industry has an image problem is quite justified, but the answer to it is not quite simple and needs a look at today’s supplementary subject of computer science for the time being. This subject is now voluntary for high school students. In addition, the middle schools determine which content is taught by which teacher to the students. Then we must not forget vocational training and the necessary practical competences in the fields of ICT, media and informatics. Looking at the teaching and learning environment, it is also noted that exciting experimentation with motivated students is necessary in order to inspire young people to engage in ICT in the long term. Well-known representatives from education, politics and business have finally worked to ensure that computer science is taught in curriculum 21 across disciplines and as part of basic training in Switzerland.

This deeper integration and higher emphasis on computer science in education can be regarded as a success that helps to change the ICT industry in a sustainable way. However, the next steps, after the adoption of Curriculum 21, involve opportunities and dangers.

One opportunity is the higher weighting of computer science, which raises students’ awareness of ICT. But also the specification of the necessary competences, so that it becomes clearer what is to be taught and this is not only in the interpretation of a single school or a single teacher.

In addition, however, there are also dangers, as it has not yet been decided how and when the cantons will implement curriculum 21. Teachers must also now meet the didactic requirements and be trained accordingly, because there are currently not enough teachers. Experience in recent years has also shown that, without a vessel for ICT competences, there is a danger that the systematic and expert teaching of the relevant skills will not be guaranteed in the school in terms of time and quality and that the necessary training for future teachers will not be incorporated or only marginally incorporated into the courses of study, or that the cantons and schools will not be given enough importance to the necessary further training for active teachers.

Then there is the question of how computer science will be integrated into other lessons such as German and mathematics. And above all, how do the converters incur corresponding additional costs when they approach the detailed work on the so-called lesson board. What is also surprising is how far the curriculum 21 wants to take the term ICT and media. Key words such as edutainment, cyberbullying, meteo cards and data structure are on the agenda.

Because of these challenges, the ICT industry cannot breathe a sigh of relief. However, the first hurdle has been cleared and after a short breath we will start to make further decisions with hopefully further positive consequences for practice.

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