Friday, January 05, 2018

Computer science will now be a Leaving Cert subject, via @siliconrepublic #STEM

Yesterday, Education Minister Richard Bruton announced that "an important and timely addition to our education system" is being made with the introduction of computer science in second level schools. According to Eva Short in Silicon Republic, students will be taught "computational thinking and analysis; programming languages and how to modify computer programmes; and how to design webpages, digital animations, simulations, games, apps and robotic systems". Good stuff I hear you say - it should have the desired effect of increasing the number of students studying STEM subjects. There will of course be a knock-on effect for third-level colleges, many of whose introductory computer science modules in first year will have to be pitched at a higher level. This is initially being rolled out to just 40 schools this year, with first Leaving Cert exams taking place in 2020, adding a further complication for third-level colleges as some students coming into first year in 2020 will already have studied computer science, while most will not have.

Interestingly, the Silicon Republic article states that the new course aims to "teach students to be creative, adaptive learners and to employ flexible, solution-oriented thinking" - I would argue that subjects such as Maths, science, and many others already do this. According to the Action Plan for Education (2017), the Dept of Education has the ambition to "create the best education and training service in Europe by 2026" - quite an ambitious target in a European Union with richer countries aiming to do the same thing. No harm in aiming high, but sound-bites like this need to be backed up with action and a lot of money. Hopefully it all comes true.

Image source: Rupert Mallin.
But my main thought on all of this is from the educators perspective. What a time to be a young teacher, or for those studying to become teachers! Richard Bruton is one of the (very few) Ministers I respect - I assume he has the teaching unions on side (and inevitably the money needed too). Many inspiring young educators will be champing at the bit to be teaching these computer science classes. A pity it is just 40 schools first, but rolling this out to all schools at once would be risking too much. It is fascinating to me that in my lifetime, the classroom has changed from using inkwell and pen (yes - I did use these at a desk like the one to the right!), to modern classrooms with a computer on every desk. If every one of our teachers (and children) get this opportunity, there is no doubt that Ireland's future is bright. I might not get to share in this (2026 is the year I formally retire!), but I can watch from the sidelines to see how it all goes.

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