22nd Jan 2015

Ireland needs to switch on in secondary education, or be left behind in computer science

A recent article in the Irish Times has reported that Ireland needs to ‘switch on’ or be left behind in computer science.

The article focusses on the recent adoption by the UK of a primary and secondary-school computing curriculum which started in September 2014. The UK curriculum operates on a basis that by the age of 11, children should already be fluent in two programming languages. The article argues that ‘computational thinking’ needs to be embedded in the Irish secondary school curriculum. It notes that one potential avenue for introducing computer science education to schools is the new junior cycle.

Israel started a secondary-school computer science curriculum as early as 1995 and is credited with turning Israel into a ‘startup nation’. This programme focussed a curriculum which was meticulously engineered by a team of experts. A further key ingredient in the success of the Israeli model has been the focus on teacher experience. All computer science teachers in Israel must have an undergraduate degree in computer science, as well as official certification in teaching the subject.

The British government is bridging the knowledge gap by recruiting and funding a network of 400 master computer science teachers to liaise with the universities, to teach teachers, to develop materials and to deliver the new curriculum to schools across the country. Without action here, there is a real risk of the State becoming an enclave of computer science illiteracy.

In order to enhance the profile of computational thinking in schools, Maynooth University has developed the Pact initiative (Programming + algorithms => Computational Thinking) in the computer science department in Maynooth University.

This module provides a complete set of materials for teaching computer science. Teachers are invited to Maynooth for training, and they share the material they develop with other participating schools. What we have found so far is that there is significant demand from schools for teaching the subject, and much enthusiasm from students for developing this important skill.

While initiatives such as Pact, CoderDojo and the NCCA’s short course in coding are a step in the right direction, they are no substitute for a clear national policy on computer science education.

If Ireland is to keep pace with its competitors, and avoid becoming a technological backwater, the Government needs to follow the lead of the UK and support the upskilling of teachers, as well as promoting computer science as a fundamental and rigorous Stem subject all the way to Leaving Cert level.

Full article here.