bratty_brits

Going international isn’t easy. Despite the global interconnectivity of the Web, different markets around the world call for wildly different approaches based on culture, language, and access to technology.

Yet somehow, without making any kind of formal international push, 70 percent of the 24 million people who use the New York-based educational platform Codecademy live outside the US.

“It happened organically,” Codecademy CEO and co-founder Zach Sims tells me. “Just by the nature of what we’re doing and that it’s a global issue.”

Now, for the first time, Codecademy is aggressively capitalizing on that international growth, partnering with organizations in the United Kingdom, France, Brazil, Argentina, and Estonia to strengthen its international hold. Probably the biggest of these initiatives is in the United Kingdom, where Codecademy will open its first international office.

Why the UK? For starters, its government’s commitment to coding education is one of the strongest in the world. This September, it will become the first G8 country to mandate programming classes for all primary and secondary schools (the equivalent of America’s K-12 schools). While Codecademy is not officially integrated into the mandate, it has carefully shaped its UK curriculum so it matches up with the government’s requirements.

“The [UK] Government will not be choosing a partner or platform,” Sims says, which suggests that any company offering the tools and resources teachers need to meet the course requirements can potentially grab a foothold in this space, no “rent-seeking” or lobbying required.

Codecademy is also partnering with France’s “Libraries Without Borders” to translate Codecademy into French, and to help spread coding to French-speaking countries, like Haiti and Cameroon, where “Libraries” has already launched literacy campaigns. Sims tells me the French translation should be live by Saturday.

There are also two big South American initiatives: The first is in Brazil where, thanks to a Brazilian non-profit called the Lemann Foundation, Codecademy is now available in Portuguese. The second is in Buenos Aires, Argentina, where the company has partnered with the city’s head of educational technology, Jorge Aguado, to tie programming into every school in the city. The Spanish translations aren’t completed yet, Sims says, but they are coming “ASAP.” After Mandarin, Spanish is the most commonly spoken language in the world, so this will significantly expand Codecademy’s reach to 400 million speakers worldwide.

Finally, Codecademy has partnered in Estonia with a government-backed technology and education project called Tiger Leap to encourage programming literacy in K-12 schools. If you’re looking for bonafides of Tiger Leap’s devotion to ed-tech, the BBC reported that the organization helped get every Estonian school online as early as the late 1990s.

What these partnerships all have is common is that they demonstrate Codecademy’s talent for identifying stakeholders with both influence and enthusiasm in whatever country they enter. They also show that startups will likely struggle to disrupt education without some major buy-in from government institutions or other incumbents.

So why is the US so far behind? Does our government just not care as much?

The flaw is in how the American educational system is structured.

“In the US there are state-by-state educational standards,” Sims says. “In a lot of states, computer science still does not qualify as a science class for graduation requirements. We have a long way to go.”

Of course, as Pando’s Carmel DeAmicis wrote, the UK’s coding mandate is far from perfect, and there are a number of ways it might fail. But it’s still an impressive gesture that speaks to a civic commitment to keeping UK’s youngsters ahead of the curve. It’s also possible that these initiatives, at least from each government institution’s perspective, are as much about PR as about really overhauling education in a meaningful way, a complaint that’s been lobbed at some American attempts to integrate coding into schools. But the mere fact that Codecademy’s international growth has outweighed its growth in the US, suggests that maybe Americans just aren’t into learning to code as much as the Silicon Valley elite would like to think.

And as the country continues to fall behind in STEM education (and as Codecademy continues to position itself as not only an education tool, but as a network for connecting employers and potential hires), the US could itself farther behind than ever.

[Illustration by Hallie Bateman for Pando]