Programming sector has jobs, but upper secondary schools offer little education in programming

General upper secondary education suvialatalo

Programming and software have a central role in today’s society. The programming sector already employs a large number of people. However, programming is barely mentioned in the core curriculum for general upper secondary schools, and programming courses are only implemented in half of all upper secondary schools. In many cases, teaching focuses only on the basics of programming or a specific programming language. Teachers’ enthusiasm has a significant impact on the realisation of programming teaching, but in-service training and resources are urgently needed. In addition, it is important to encourage girls to study programming, as a majority of the few current students are boys.

The Finnish Education Evaluation Centre (FINEEC) has evaluated the instruction of programming in general upper secondary education. The evaluation surveyed the instruction offered in programming during the academic year 2020‒2021, i.e. before the implementation of the new core curriculum. The evaluation examined how the new curriculum will affect the instruction in programming offered in the future. In addition, it examined how many students have included programming in their studies and what factors promote and limit the instruction offered in programming. The material was collected with questionnaires aimed at principals and teachers teaching mathematics or information technology as well as those teaching programming within other subjects. The questionnaire was sent to 60 general upper secondary schools. Of these, 40 replied to the questionnaire.

Few students study programming in upper secondary schools

According to the results, programming was taught only in approximately half of all upper secondary schools, and most of the study units that included programming focused only on the basics of programming or on a single programming language. Many of these study units also included robotics.

Study units for programming were available in more than half of all general upper secondary schools in Finland, but not all of these study units were realised. Very few students include programming in their studies. Most of these are boys. Girls should be encouraged to study programming and the number of girls in programming study units should be increased so that more women would pursue a career in technology in the future.

Moreover, programming is hardly mentioned in the National core curriculum for general upper secondary education. By 2019, it had not been included in the curriculum at all, and even in the new core curriculum for general upper secondary schools implemented in autumn 2021, programming is mentioned only as part of a module in the advanced syllabus for mathematics. In general upper secondary schools, the study units in programming are mainly part of studies in the field of mathematics and natural sciences, especially in the advanced syllabus for mathematics and in information technology. However, programming is a skill that can be used widely and incorporated extensively into different subjects and phenomena.

– Limiting programming studies to the advanced syllabus for mathematics will result in the exclusion of a number of potential programmers who do not choose the advanced syllabus for mathematics but might be interested in programming. Programming has already been made familiar in basic education, so it is unfortunate if students cannot study it in upper secondary schools due to structural issues, says Senior Evaluation Advisor Saara Nousiainen.

Teachers’ enthusiasm is important for promoting the teaching of programming, but more in-service training is needed

Teachers’ enthusiasm and capabilities to teach programming were considered one of the most important factors promoting the instruction of programming. Similarly, a lack of these capabilities as well as a constant rush and challenges with schedules were considered factors that limited it. The majority of teachers responded that they needed in-service training to be able to teach programming. Despite the programming studies included in their own teacher training, the teaching of programming requires them to learn entirely new skills. Resources and opportunities for in-service training aimed at teachers should therefore be provided to increase the instruction offered in programming in general upper secondary schools.

Cooperation with higher education was also considered to play an important role in implementing the instruction of programming in the future. Some educational institutions are already taking advantage of such cooperation. Independent completion of different free programming courses offered by higher education institutions online was rare and only individual students included them in their general upper secondary studies. However, participation in these courses independently or with the entire teaching group can increase a student’s programming competence if the student’s own educational institution does not offer sufficient instruction in programming. Information about different open courses should therefore be disseminated to educational institutions and students in order to increase competence in programming.


Report (in Finnish): Evaluation of the instruction of programming in general upper secondary education. Publications 6:2022. Finnish Education Evaluation Centre.

The evaluation was carried out as a service subject to a fee, and it was commissioned by Maunula Secondary School and Helsinki School of Mathematics (Viipurin Reaalikoulu Oy). Maunula Secondary School and Helsinki School of Mathematics has been granted a special educational mission to develop the instruction of mathematics in upper secondary schools.

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