Fifth-year pupils able to study Leaving Cert computer science from next year

From next year, fifth-year pupils will be able to study computer science for the Leaving Certificate, as the Department of Education is set to fast-track its plan to make Ireland’s education and training system the best in Europe.

Introducing computer science to secondary schools was one of the recommendations made by the STEM (science, technology, engineering, and maths) education review group in its report on improving the teaching of STEM subjects in primary and secondary schools. The new course, which was not originally to begin until 2019, will focus on computational thinking and coding.

The authors of the government-commissioned STEM report said the quality of second level education in STEM subjects was essential to ensuring pupils fare better in third-level STEM courses and in the workplace.

A new advisory group led by industry and academic experts is also being set up to devise plans for greater use of technology in education in general.

The announcement is part of the department’s Action Plan for Education 2017, launched in Dublin today. As part of its greater emphasis on wellbeing in second-level schools, the department will also announce ringfenced guidance counselling hours for students experiencing emotional difficulties.

A “strong” circular will also be sent to schools, underlining the importance of keeping educational costs down for parents by offering more choice in areas such as uniforms and books.

The department also wants to attract more top- level researchers to Ireland.

Last week, UCC’s new president, Patrick O’Shea, said one of his key goals was to attract more research funding and international investment to UCC, as the UK leaves the EU.

Yesterday, Education Minister Richard Bruton said: “Education is central to all our ambitions as a nation. It is central to our economic, scientific, cultural, and social ambitions. Education supports the development of a strong growing economy while sustaining a fair and compassionate society.

“In this plan, we will set out the actions that we will take in 2017 as we work towards making the Irish education and training service the best in Europe within a decade.”

Ten more educational psychologists are to be hired around the country and a wellbeing programme is to be introduced for junior-level students. A plan to support disadvantaged schools is to be introduced, with more schools being given Deis supports, and a “school excellence fund” will be developed for the sector.

Work experience schemes are to be reviewed in secondary schools and 13 new apprenticeships developed.

“Innovative responses” to skills shortages in ICT, languages, and biopharma are to be introduced this year and a strategy developed so that more foreign languages can be introduced in schools, allowing other subjects to be taught through these languages and through Irish.

A new model of allocating special needs support in mainstream education will be introduced

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