A General overview on The Coding Curriculum for Irish Secondary Schools

Coding as part of the Leaving Cert

Ireland has a skilled and highly trained workforce and as a nation, we are excelling in the sciences.  To continue this tradition, The Irish Department of Education has invested in the relatively new coding curriculum for schools.   The new Computer Science course for leaving certificate students will begin in September this year.  While coding is currently being taught in selected primary schools and has been part to the junior cert cycle for a few years, this commitment to coding and computer science has been welcomed.  Cranna College in Co Donegal are one of the innovative schools who have invested in coding as part of their school curriculum, since 2016.  Thomas Boyle, Technology and Coding Teacher explains “We strongly believe in giving our students the opportunity to study coding. We do not want to produce a class full of coders but we do want our students to learn coding, team work, communication and computational thinking. These skills are essential in the world that is full of technology” Learning to write computer code helps them to make sense of how things work, explore ideas and make things, for both work and play.

But the introduction of any new subject is not without its issues, and this complex topic is no different.

Upskilling of educators, good broadband and an awareness of good internet security are some of the issues to be considered.  Coder dojo, the free computer programming clubs for young people, have welcomed the introduction of the computer science to the Leaving Cert Curriculum.  Prof Brian MacCraith of the Irish branch said it is “crucially important” that the proposed new subject be computer science/coding, rather than a more general one on digital competency.  He also noted that the enthusiasm and aptitude which Irish children and teenagers show for coding needs to be built on and encouraged.   While the new curriculum does focus on computational thinking, programming and creative design, it is clear from attendance at Coderdojo’s and from the NCCA’s short course on coding, that the students are more than ready for the challenges of this subject. There has, however, been some concerns about the skillset of teachers and the need for up-skilling prior to the start of the courses in September 2018. Even when students have access to the right technology, it is imperative that they be taught properly how to use it. In 2015, most in EU countries it was reported that fewer than 30% of children aged 10-15 yrs were taught by “digitally confident” teachers. One in four teachers said that they did not have enough ICT training. (Statistics found here)

Fortunately, the classic Raspberry Pi and its accompanying kits make programming fun, with practical projects and hassle free operation, any teacher worth their science salt can easily become familiar with. Micro:bit is a low cost, tiny programmable computer that make computer coding easy and fun. 90% of students said that it showed that anyone can code.  85% of teachers were pleased that it made Computer Science more enjoyable and 70% of girl students said that after using it, they would choose Computing as a school subject. Our expert staff at SG Education are happy to introduce you to the wonderful world of the Micro:bit and Micro:bit add on’s/kits. Whether you are a teacher, a student or a family pursuing a very worthwhile hobby, you will love the usability of this product.  It can be coded from any web browser in a number of languages, including Scratch and Python. It is clear that accessing good practical tools for the classroom will not be a problem.

The Government have recognised the need for excellent Broadband connectivity in schools and have stressed the need for rigorous internet safety procedures for each school. To date, 40 of Ireland’s 723 Post Primary schools will begin the Leaving Cert Computer Science curriculum this Autumn. But there is no doubt that this is just the vanguard of an exciting new learning experience for post primary students countrywide. Once colleges fully appreciate the enthusiasm from the students and parents, coupled with the learning value of the subject matter, it is certain that it will become the norm on the classrooms of the future.  First Year students at Crana College have benefited greatly from the new course. Teacher Thomas Boyle notes “Learning how being able to write computer code helps them to make sense of how things work, explore ideas and make things, for both work and play. What’s more the course has helped students to unleash their creativity and work collaboratively with students in their classes and indeed all over the world.”