In today’s world, computer science underpins every aspect of life, with digital systems relied upon for everything from landing airplanes and churning money out of ATM machines, to mobile phones .
Up until now, Irish children and teenagers with an aptitude for computing have had to depend on the network of voluntary clubs, known as CoderDojo, to develop their programming skills.
Core components of computer science will make their way on to the Junior Cycle curriculum from September, with a short course in coding.
Although only a limited number of schools will be equipped to teach coding this autumn, it will quickly become more widely available.
The proposed Leaving Cert subject would build on that, giving students a deeper knowledge of how to use computers to analyse and solve problems, and providing a sound foundation upon which to pursue study in this field at third-level
Employers across all sectors are crying out for graduates with computing skills – and the lack of a computer programming subject is seen as a serious omission from the second-level curriculum .
Even when school-leavers opt to pursue computing at third-level, the drop out rate is high and attributed to a lack of understanding or preparedness for what is involved.
It will take some years for computer science to become a reality on the Leaving Cert curriculum and will require input from the National Council for Curriculum and Assessment (NCCA).
The NCCA recently started the groundwork on the options, including looking at international best practice.
The request to the NCCA followed a recommendation in the Digital Strategy for Schools report which was published last year, stressing the need not only to integrate information and communications technology (ICT) into teaching and learning across the board, but also to provide for in-depth study of computing at senior cycle.
The issues for the NCCA to consider include the content and design of the new course, the resources that schools would need to implement it, and the availability of teachers with the necessary skills to teach it.
Dublin City University (DCU) president Professor Brian MacCraith is a strong advocate of the introduction of computing to the curriculum for second level students.
He chaired an expert group on Science Technology Engineering and Maths (STEM) education. Its report has yet to be published, but it is understood also to call for computer science as a Leaving Cert subject.
Welcoming the NCCA’s work, Prof MacCraith told the Irish Independent that it was “crucially important” that the proposed new subject be computer science/coding, rather than a more general one on digital competency.
Prof MacCraith said Coderdojo showed the enthusiasm and aptitude Irish children and teenagers had for coding: “We need to build on that.”
One of the issues that has emerged in the UK is the low uptake of among female students in computer science at school level, but Prof MacCraith said females accounted for 45pc of entrants to the CoderDojo Coolest Projects Awards.