Is Python a good language for beginning programmers?
If you want to learn programming yourself, check out the Beginner’s Guide to Python over at the Python Wiki.
If you want to discuss Python’s use in education, then you may be interested in joining the edu-sig mailing list. The rest of this article provides some advise for teachers.
It is still common to start students with a procedural (subset of a) statically typed language such as Pascal, C, or a subset of C++ or Java. Students may be better served by learning Python as their first language. Python has a very simple and consistent syntax and a large standard library and, most importantly, using Python in a beginning programming course permits students to concentrate on important programming skills such as problem decomposition and data type design. With Python, students can be quickly introduced to basic concepts such as loops and procedures. They can even probably work with user-defined objects in their very first course.
For a student who has never programmed before, using a statically typed language seems unnatural. It presents additional complexity that the student must master and slows the pace of the course. The students are trying to learn to think like a computer, decompose problems, design consistent interfaces, and encapsulate data. While learning to use a statically typed language is important in the long term, it is not necessarily the best topic to address in the students’ first programming course.
Many other aspects of Python make it a good first language. Like Java, Python has a large standard library so that students can be assigned programming projects very early in the course that do something. Assignments aren’t restricted to the standard four-function calculator and check balancing programs. By using the standard library, students can gain the satisfaction of working on realistic applications as they learn the fundamentals of programming. Using the standard library also teaches students about code reuse. Third-party modules such as PyGame are also helpful in extending the students’ reach.
Python’s interactive interpreter enables students to test language features while they’re programming. They can keep a window with the interpreter running while they enter their program’s source in another window. If they can’t remember the methods for a list, they can do something like this:
>>> L =  >>> dir(L) ['append', 'count', 'extend', 'index', 'insert', 'pop', 'remove', 'reverse', 'sort'] >>> help(L.append) Help on built-in function append: append(...) L.append(object) -- append object to end >>> L.append(1) >>> L 
With the interpreter, documentation is never far from the student as he’s programming.
There are also good IDEs for Python. IDLE is a cross-platform IDE for Python that is written in Python using Tkinter. PythonWin is a Windows-specific IDE. Emacs users will be happy to know that there is a very good Python mode for Emacs. All of these programming environments provide syntax highlighting, auto-indenting, and access to the interactive interpreter while coding. Consult http://www.python.org/editors/ for a full list of Python editing environments.