#DIF13 – Irish schoolkids waiting for education system to catch up, Minister Cannon says (videos)

20 Sep 2013

Ciaran Cannon, TD, Ireland's Minister for Training and Skills, delivers the opening address at the Digital Ireland Forum: Global 2.0 event at the Convention Centre Dublin. Photo by Conor McCabe Photography

Ireland’s Minister for Training and Skills Ciaran Cannon, TD, painted a poignant picture of Irish schoolkids resorting to teaching each other vital coding skills at weekend CoderDojos because the school system isn’t providing this knowledge. This, he promised at the Digital Ireland Forum: Global 2.0 event in Dublin this morning, is about to change.

Cannon said in his opening address at the event that a pioneering group of teachers are working on programmes that will bring coding – the language of business and culture in the 21st century – into the Irish classroom.

He said the Department of Education and Skills is working with the CoderDojo movement to take advantage of new 100-hour courses that come as part of the programme of reform to bring the option of learning how to code into the classroom.

“We are fortunate enough to have a number of trailblazing Irish teachers working on this.”

He said many of the career options for today’s schoolkids have yet to be described and that by 2015 only one in 10 jobs won’t require digital skills.

“Our 21st-century teachers work in an environment that their predecessors would have died for. They can take their classes to the edge of Niagara Falls, into space with Col (Chris) Hadfield or into the nucleus of the smallest atom. A classroom in Thurles can communicate directly with their peers in cities all over the world.”

As the digital economy evolves, Cannon said the Irish education system needs to engineer a paradigm shift that sees Irish schoolkids become the creators of technology, not just the followers.

“Do children in our schools need to learn computer science and how to code? My answer is yes, of course they do.

“Is it acceptable that children end up impassive end users without a deeper understanding of how it works? By introducing coding to Irish schools, it does not mean we are going to churn out a nation of coders or Mark Zuckerbergs. We don’t teach English so that every single kid will be the next JK Rowling. We do this to give them a chance. The world around us will be driven by technology, which has its own evolving language and we need to give our children the opportunity and the capacity to understand.”

Kids teaching each other

Cannon added that this will require investment and simply relying on free software from the internet would be selling Irish schoolkids short.

“If you’ve ever visited a CoderDojo on a Saturday morning and seen the wonder on a child’s face when they write their first few lines of code, realising they control the machine rather than the machine controlling them, it’s magical. When they type their first few lines of HTML, announcing their first presence on the web.

“The formal education system has been left behind by these kids and our young people have begun teaching themselves these skills while the rest of us try to catch up. There’s no reason why we can’t catch up.”

Cannon cited Estonia, where coding is taught in the schools daily and the kids attend coding clubs at the weekends.

“We need to facilitate a deep and meaningful collaboration between teachers, policy makers and industry.

“Our children are waiting for us to catch up – let’s lead them from the front.”

Minister Ciaran Cannon, TD, talks about making Ireland a global hub for business and technology

Part 1:

Digital Ireland Forum: Global 2.0 – Opening address by Ciaran Cannon, TD, Minister for Training and Skills

Part 2:

Digital Ireland Forum: Global 2.0 – Opening address by Ciaran Cannon, TD, Minister for Training and Skills (Part 2)

John Kennedy is a journalist who served as editor of Silicon Republic for 17 years