Goethe, Schiller ... Python? If it goes by the science journalist Ranga Yogeshwar, the programming language is just as much a culture as the two writers. But while the first two may not be missing in any German school lessons, it looks different with programming languages. Meanwhile, Chancellor Angela Merkel also believes that "the ability to program becomes one of the basic skills of young people, in addition to reading, writing, arithmetic". Education Minister Anja Karliczek demands: Every child should learn to program.

But what does that actually mean, learning to program? We need reading and writing in everyday life, most people come through life, without even a line of program code to see. Now, however, the German government is using the digital pact to promote digitization at schools with five billion euros, and the question arises as to what it should actually finance. Is it about filling the 80,000 vacancies in the IT sector in the medium term, which the industry association Bitkom reported a few months ago? Or is not it about the larger question of what a digital society actually has to do?

"I do not think that everyone has to be able to program," says sociologist Natalie Sontopski, who is researching the complex laboratory Digital Culture at Merseburg University of Applied Sciences. This is surprising as she co-founded the Code Girls initiative, which offers workshops on the topic of programming for girls and women. But her sentence goes on: "What matters to us is the so-called Code Literacy , so that people understand something of how programming works," she says. "Knowing that helps to understand how our world works."

Software understanding as general education

Software consists of concatenations of if-then conditions, functions and variables that follow one another or repeat sequentially in so-called loops. A sequence of such conditions is an algorithm. A simple example:

  • If the temperature is lower than a target value, turn on the heater
  • Check the temperature
  • If the temperature is higher than a target value, turn off the heater

The more complex a program, the more complex the conditions. Do you have to be able to program yourself to understand this? "It depends on what you can understand by programming," says Viktoriya Lebedynska, who is involved in the Fraunhofer Institute for Intelligent Analysis and Information Systems (IAIS), among others, on the Roberta initiative, which teaches how to program children. "When I say that people should be able to program, I mean that they know how a program is structured, how it works, and that they have at least made some simple first steps in the field, not necessarily that they can write complex programs themselves . "

The idea behind initiatives such as Roberta, Coding Girls or Start Coding is to bring technology to young people through their own programming experience. Most of them work with playful approaches, such as small robots programmed to independently run a course. Minicomputers such as the Raspberry Pi, Arduino or Calliope can be controlled with specially developed programming languages ​​such as Scratch or Nepo. These have graphical interfaces, which means that the commands do not have to be typed, but are drawn to the right place as colored blocks with a mouse click.

It's about points of contact with technology, about a basic understanding of the technology that permeates our lives. How does the Internet work, how is a computer constructed, what is data? "For example, you should know what an IP address is and have a sense of how hardware and software work together and how a computer interacts with the world through sensors," says Lebedynska. "People should understand, not just apply."