Computer science has become obligatory at Swiss upper secondary schools, as the country seeks to plug its information technology (IT) skills gap.
These schools (Gymnasium/lyceé/liceo), whose pupils typically go on to university, have until the school year 2022/3 to introduce the compulsory lessons, under a regulation change that came into force on August 1.
Previously, IT had the status of a non-obligatory supplementary subject.
Pupils will learn programming basics as well as about computer networks and digital communication security issues. They should also develop a “well-versed understanding of developments in the information society”, the education ministry said in a statementexternal link announcing the move in late June.
The change was necessary because of the “rising importance in society” of information and communication technologies (ICT), it added.
Jobs and skills
There is already a strong demand for IT specialists, but those in the field say there are currently not enough skilled workers to fill these positions.
“We don’t have any problem finding people for the helpdesk, which is quite easy in IT terms, but it’s much more complicated to find developers,” Lionel Rieder, co-founder of website developer Raccoonexternal link in Neuchâtel, told Swiss public television, RTSexternal link.
He said his company looks in schools that have a high level of IT teaching, but he explains it’s difficult to find someone with a Federal Vocational Education and Training (VET) diploma (awarded after three or four years of apprenticeship) with a good knowledge of computer development.
According to statistics shown on the RTS report, around 90,000 people were employed in IT professions in 1991. This had risen to 210,800 by 2015. By 2024 there is expected to be a shortfall of almost 25,000 IT specialists.
The academic world has also welcomed the obligatory IT lessons. Martin Vetterli, president of the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology Lausanne (EPFLexternal link), told RTS that the decision came at the right time because “we need to catch up a bit in the IT area”.
“The digital revolution is happening, and people need the right training. It’s part of the necessary skills to go on to higher studies and even to be a citizen in the digital world,” he said.
The business world has long been talking about the impact of digital technologies on education.
One issue is, however, whether there will be enough IT teachers to teach the compulsory classes. According to Swiss public television, SRFexternal link, 300 new teaching positions will need to be filled across the country.
Cantons have already started hunting. Aldo Magnoexternal link, head of upper secondary school education in canton Lucerne, says up to 20 IT teachers are needed. Some current teachers will take further qualifications in IT, but the rest will have to be hired. But for those who do study IT, “there are very attractive job offers from the private sector” with higher salaries, he said.
Canton Zurich needs an estimated 40 new full-time posts, which is why, for example, it intends to promote teaching to pupils and graduates. Older people are also welcome to take extra teaching qualifications, the canton told SRF.