Different conditions, different approaches

An exploratory study into what influences the implementation of programming in different educational systems.


Education is considered an important aspect of human development; it aims to provide us with the necessary tools to participate in an equal and democratic society. New skills and competencies are required with the continued digitalization of our school systems. One skill that is mentioned is that of programming, which implementation in education has been approached in different ways by different nations. One aspect that the RED research group is investigating is how technology contributes to or mitigates inequalities in digital education (Reconfigurations of educational in/equality in a digital world, 2023). We were, as part of our internship, tasked with looking into how programming was discussed and implemented in the participating nations; Argentina, Botswana Germany, Mexico, South Africa, and Sweden, by analyzing literature written about the subject of programming in education, and writing a paper on key themes that influence equality in education.

It is reasoned that learning programming skills develop students’ logical thinking, their problem-solving methods and encourages creativity, in addition developing computational thinking (CT) is argued to help students generalize and transfer methods to solve new problems (Nouri et al., 2020). The use of programming for educational benefits is itself not a new phenomenon, Seymour Papert (1980) created his programming language Logo and discussed the concept of CT back in the 1960s, and programming has since then been an important topic in the learning sciences.

Despite this, there is still no consensus when it comes to what constitutes computational thinking, with various definitions used by educators and organizations. However, the transferability of problem-solving skills to other subjects is a premise of CT in all cases. It should, however, be mentioned that within the field of education, there are different viewpoints regarding whether the transfer of knowledge occurs. For this paper, we have decided upon the following definition of CT by the Computer Science Teachers Association and the International Society for Technology in Education mentioned in Bocconi et al. (2016), based on the viewpoint that CT is more than merely applicable to the ’skill’ of programming:

“Computational Thinking (CT) is a problem-solving process that includes (but is not limited to) the following characteristics: (1) Formulating problems in a way that enables us to use a computer and other tools to help solve them; (2) Logically organizing and analysing data; Representing data through abstractions such as models and simulations; (3) Automating solutions through algorithmic thinking (a series of ordered steps); (4) Identifying, analysing, and implementing possible solutions with the goal of achieving the most efficient and effective combination of steps and resources; (5) Generalizing and transferring this problem-solving process to a wide variety of problems.”

Aim of study

The aim of this study has been to explore literature regarding the introduction of programming in education, by collecting literature about how programming is taught in the participating nations; and analysing how this use contributes to or mitigates inequalities in education.


We used an exploratory approach (Stebbins, 2001) when it came to collecting our literature, combining database searches and snowball sampling of reference lists. The reasoning behind this method was to expand our knowledge regarding the phenomenon (Swedberg, 2020), allowing for flexibility and open-endedness in the research process in order to explore new themes. The literature was then analyzed and discussed, highlighting key aspects such as their rationale to teach programming in school and its relation to equality. We also explored national and supranational documents to gain a deeper understanding of each educational system.

Figure 1 – The process of the exploratory study

Key Findings

The exploratory study resulted in us finding 134 documents relating to the use of programming in education, and then by analyzing the articles by their relation to equality we narrowed it down to 48 articles[1]. These articles were analyzed in detail, focusing on finding key themes in relation to the aim of the study. Out of the themes found, we have selected the three themes we found most interesting in relation to further research. The tables below provide the key findings of this exploratory study:

The view of digital citizenship vs. employability

Curricular differences, whereas Sweden and Germany focus on digital competencies and the use of computational thinking strategies in order to participate in modern society. Botswana and South Africa instead reason that programming skills are needed to be able to participate in the job market, to participate in the ‘fourth industrial revolution.’(Skolverket, 2022a) (South Africa department of education, 2011) (Tsarava, et al., 2017) (Prinsloo, 2020)
Elementary students should start learning programming skills early to develop their creativity, critical thinking and digital competence.(Kjällanderet al, 2021)
The idea that digital competence is transversal over all subjects applies to digital citizenship, like teaching programming to learn critical thinking and problem-solving in mathematics prepares students for the modern world.(Bråting et al., 2021)

Societal differences affecting education

Cultural values and gender issues, wherein technology is viewed as male-dominated and working with technology not fitting with a female’s self-image. Along with girls dropping out of school due to teenage pregnancies.(Dlodlo, 2009)
Literacy and language barriers lead to problems for students whose first language is not the same as the one used in the educational system.(Pillay & Jugoo, 2005) (Sikwebu & van Greunen, 2020)
Economy and unemployment issues, wherein students are forced to abandon education in order to support their families. The lack of access to technological resources and understanding of their use results in more barriers for African teachers, which in turn leads to limited pedagogical opportunities.(Dlodlo, 2009) (Tshukudu, et al., 2022)

Teachers’ experiences/perceptions of their use of technology in education

Teachers not trusting technology to function when they need it (Ekberg & Gao, 2018)
Teachers doubting their technical know-how(Tallvid et al., 2012)
Diminishing control in the classroom with the use of technology(Ekberg & Gao, 2018)
Teachers not having enough time to integrate technology into their teaching(Ekberg & Gao, 2018) (Leino Lindell, 2020)
(Lindberg et al., 2017) (Tallvid, 2016)
Teachers lack the flexibility to adapt their teaching methods to meet the need of the students(Vinnervik, 2022b)


The view of the use of technology in education and how programming skills could be used differs from each nation. We would argue that this is one of the most important aspects, as the design and objectives of curriculums are essential when it comes to how schools and teachers educate students. We argue that further research into the underlying reasons why curriculums differ between nations of the Global North and Global South would benefit the research area in general.

The societal differences in and between the nations are also of interest, where some education systems already have undergone digitalization, and where other nations could learn from their experiences. One key theme in this study concerned the issues that occur when one simply focuses on providing schools with digital tools, without also providing teachers and students with the necessary knowledge needed to use these tools (Tallvid et al., 2012; Vinnervik, 2022b), and provide schools and municipalities with the required infrastructure to facilitate these changes (Ekberg & Gao, 2018; Skolverket, 2022b).

We see a dilemma in achieving equality in education if nations do not incorporate technology into their curricula at earlier ages. A lesson in general that could be learned is that in nations where fewer students complete compulsory education, the students risk missing out on valuable education by the decision to not introduce technology at younger ages. To address this issue, research must be conducted into when one should start introducing technology, and programming techniques, in education. This research will, however, be influenced by the goal of the nation in general. If the goal is to prepare students to be able to participate in work life (for example, the 4th industrial revolution), then it is reasonable to assume that the focus will lie on the coding aspect of computational thinking. The students are drilled to be productive, focussing on programming techniques and/or trial-and-error methods. If, on the other hand, the goal is to prepare students for participating in a more digital society, be more knowledgeable and better prepared to face obstacles outside of programming situations – for example, be more aware of how digital media can be used to influence their worldview, and how digital technology affects their day-to-day life, the research into the “softer” skills of computational thinking and the foundation of digital competence is of more concern.

[1] When analysing the literature from Argentina and Mexico, we found most of it written in Spanish, which for us was a limitation due to us not speaking Spanish. We have therefore focused on literature from Botswana, Germany, South Africa, and Sweden.


Bocconi, S., Chioccariello, A., Dettori, G., Ferrari, A., & Engelhardt, K. (2016). Developing Computational Thinking in Compulsory Education – Implications for policy and practice. 1-68. doi:10.2791/792158

Bråting, K., Kilhamn, C., & Rolandsson, L. (2021). Integrating programming in Swedish school mathematics: description of a research project. Sustainable mathematics education in a digitalized world. Proceedings of MADIF12. The twelfth research seminar of the Swedish Society for Research in Mathematics Education, (pp. 101-110). Växjö.

Dlodlo, N. (2009). Access to ICT education for girls and women in rural South Africa: A case study. Technology in Society, 31, 168-175. doi:10.1016/j.techsoc.2009.03.003

Ekberg, S., & Gao, S. (2018). Understanding challenges of using ICT in secondary schools in Sweden from teachers’ perspective. International Journal of Information and Learning Technology, 35(1), 43-55.

Kjällander, S., Mannila, L., Åkerfeldt, A., & Heintz, F. (2021). Elementary students’ first approach to computational thinking and programming. Education Sciences, 11(2), 1-15. doi:10.3390/educsci11020080

Leino Lindell, T. (2020). Teachers calling for organizational support to digitalize teaching. International Journal of Information and Learning Technology, 37(5), 323-339. doi:10.1108/IJILT-02-2020-0017

Lindberg, O. J., Olofsson, A. D., & Fransson, G. (2017). Same but different? An examination of Swedish upper secondary school teachers’ and students’ views and use of ICT in education. International Journal of Information and Learning Technology, 34(2), 122-132. doi:10.1108/IJILT-09-2016-0043

Nouri, J., Lechen, Z., Mannila, L., & Norén, E. (2020). Development of computational thinking, digital competence and 21st century skills when learning programming in K-9. Education Inquiry, 11(1), 1-17. doi:10.1080/20004508.2019.1627844

Papert, S. (1980). Mindstorms: children, computers, and powerful ideas. New York: Basic Books, Inc.

Pillay, N., & Jugoo, V. R. (2005). An investigation into student characteristics affecting novice programming performance. The SIGCSE Bulletin, 37(4), 107-110.

Prinsloo, P. (2020). Data frontiers and frontiers of power in (higher) education: a view of/from the global south. Teaching in higher education, 25(4), 366-383. doi:10.1080/13562517.2020.1723537

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Sikwebu, A., & van Greunen, D. (2020). Starting from Scratch: Introducing Primary School Learners to Programming. In M. Cunningham, & P. Cunningham (Ed.), IST-Africa 2020 Conference Proceedings, (pp. 1-9).

Skolverket. (2022a). Läroplan för grundskolan, förskoleklassen och fritidshemmet: Reviderad 2022. Retrieved from

Skolverket. (2022b). Skolverkets uppföljning av digitaliseringsstrategin 2021. Retrieved from

South Africa department of education. (2011). Curriculum and assessment policy statement: Grades 10-12. Retrieved from

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Tallvid, M. (2016). Understanding teachers’ reluctance to the pedagogical use of ICT in the 1:1 classroom. Education and Information Technologies, 21(3), 503-519.

Tallvid, M., Lindström, B., & Lundin, J. (2012). Teachers’ arguments for NOT using laptops in the 1:1 classroom. In M. Searson, & M. N. Ochoa (Ed.), Proceedings of Society for Information Technology & Teacher Education International Conference 2014 (pp. 2669-2676). Jacksonville, Florida, United States: AACE: Association for the Advancement of Computing in Education.

Tsarava, K., Moeller, K., Pinkwart, N., Butz, M., Trautwein, U., & Ninaus, M. (2017). Training Computational Thinking: Game-Based Unplugged and Plugged-in Activities in Primary School. 11th European Conference on Games Based Learning, ECGBL 2017, (pp. 687-695). Graz.

Tshukudu, E., Sentance, S., Adelakun-Adeyemo, O., Nyaringita, B., Quille, K., & Zhong, Z. (2022). Investigating K-12 computing education in four African countries (Botswana, Kenya, Nigeria and Uganda). ACM transactions on computing education. doi:10.1145/3554924

Vinnervik, P. (2022a). An in-depth analysis of programming in the Swedish school curriculum – rationale, knowledge content and teacher guidance. Journal of computers in education. doi:10.1007/s40692-022-00230-2

Vinnervik, P. (2022b). Programming in school technology education: the shaping of a new subject content. International Journal of Technology and Design Education, 22. doi:10.1007/s10798-022-09773-y

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