Primary pupils 'should learn computing', says Microsoft
All children should learn computer science at primary school, a major software corporation has urged.
A lack of computing in schools put the UK's position as a world leader in computer gaming at risk, said Microsoft UK's director of education.
Steve Beswick was speaking on the eve of the BETT show for educational technology in London.
The Department of Education welcomed the teaching of computer coding, which it said was educationally "vital".
In England the government has scrapped information technology lessons, with a new computing curriculum due next year.
Mr Beswick said that the computer gaming sector currently generated £3bn a year for the British economy, adding that games and software developers required skilled individuals to ensure their businesses thrived.
"It's a world leader in its sector and we desperately need to ensure that our talent pool of computer scientists is as healthy as it can be in order to sustain valuable industries like that," he said.
Mr Beswick pointed out that there were currently about 100,000 job vacancies in the UK that required computer science qualifications, but last year only about a third of that number had graduated in computer science.
"Computer science is something that we have been calling the 'fourth science' for some time," said Mr Beswick.
"We believe that it is every bit as important as physics, chemistry and biology."
Mr Beswick believes that formally introducing children to the basics of the subject at primary school, will help inspire more pupils to take it to degree level and ultimately the world of work.
In a statement, the Department for Education said it agreed with Microsoft and that was why the "out-dated ICT curriculum" was scrapped last year, with computer science now being taught in schools.
It said: "We're involving experts like Microsoft, Google and Cambridge University in the development of Computer Science teaching to properly equip pupils for the 21st Century.
"These changes and exciting developments, like Raspberry Pi and Computing for Schools, are spreading the teaching of computer coding which is so educationally and economically vital."
Education Secretary Michael Gove chose last year's BETT show to announce a radical revamp of the information and communications technology (ICT) curriculum in schools, calling it "demotivating and dull".
He scrapped the ICT curriculum from last September and called on schools to use online resources to teach computing so that even 11-year-olds would be capable of writing simple 2D computer animations.
The announcement was widely welcomed by the computing industry though concerns have been expressed about a lack of specialist computer science teachers.