The Irish Computer Society (ICS) is calling for dramatic changes in computing education at second level in order to protect the future of the IT industry in Ireland.
A report drawn up for the ICS by Professor Michael Ryan, Professor of Computing at Dublin City University, has identified a number of key issues. The main finding is that the present points system is unsound in that it confuses the academic standard achieved and the competitive performance in the points race. A better approach would be to give each student a competitive ranking in each subject, as well as an academic grade and use the former to arrive at the overall competitive result. Such a change would be easy to implement, the report says, and would provide a more reasonable system. It would also encourage students to select the subjects for which they had the greatest aptitude and might help reverse the decline in the numbers selecting technical subjects.
Another issue highlighted in the report is that Ireland lags behind other EU countries in the provision of computing education at second level. Computing is still not on the Leaving Certificate curriculum — a serious educational shortfall as well as a failure to address the needs of the economy, the report concludes. Moreover, there is a lack of understanding of the educational value of computing in that it helps develop abilities in analysis, critical thinking and organisation.
“The lack of a computing subject at second level leaves a serious gap in the education of those whose formal education ends there,” commented Professor Ryan. “Basic computer literacy is now a requirement, not an option or luxury and should be addressed in the junior cycle or even earlier. A deeper understanding can be addressed in the senior cycle. For those who proceed to third level, lack of understanding of computing can lead to inappropriate course choices and is a handicap unless corrected by further study,” he added.
The ICS is calling for the following actions to be taken: the introduction of syllabi for computing in the junior and senior cycle; the initial piloting of the new syllabi in selected schools, evaluation of the results and extension to the second level system as a whole; training and support of teachers and the provision of more technology resources including hardware and software.
By Brian Skelly