The time and level of training required to introduce computer science as a Leaving Certificate subject next year needs significant investment if it is to be a realistic option for all students, a teachers union has warned.
Teachers’ Union of Ireland (TUI) education officer, David Duffy, said Education Minister Richard Bruton’s ambition to offer it as a subject choice to fifth-year students from September 2018 is achievable.
But, he said, while the curriculum itself can be designed and finalised relatively quickly, additional spending needs to be committed by the Department of Education to ensure teachers and schools are equipped to deliver the course.
“The department has the ability to make this happen in partnership with the profession, but an awful lot of training is needed if you’re upskilling existing teachers. You’re not talking about taking people out of school for a short course of five or six days,” Mr Duffy said.
His comments come after a report to the National Council for Curriculum and Assessment (NCCA) this week said more detailed research is needed on the teacher professional development requirements.
It described the experience in several countries of introducing computer science at second-level or revising existing courses, including difficulties with the short two-year turnaround in New Zealand between a decision to introduce computer science and when it began to be taught.
Mr Bruton wants the NCCA to lead plans that will see an implementation plan in place by the end of the year to see computer science being taught in just over 18 months’ time. He announced earlier this month that he is bringing forward the timeframe for its introduction by a year from the previous target.
Mr Duffy said the question should be asked whether this can be done on an equitable basis, to ensure the subject is a choice regardless of where a student is going to school.
“The reality is that some schools have access to funds, through parents and local communities, that others don’t have for the required hardware and other materials,” Mr Duffy said.
“We also need to make sure that it isn’t a gendered subject, because the international evidence shows that computer science is taken up far less by girls,” he said.
Concerns about Mr Bruton’s timeframe are even stronger from the head of a college department which is interested in delivering whatever teacher training course is deemed necessary.
Padraig Kirwan, head of computing and maths at Waterford Institute of Technology, said he does not think 2018 is a realistic start date.
While the curriculum could be drawn up relatively quickly, he said, teachers in the new subject “would need to do a one-year full-time course or a two-year part-time course to be sufficiently skilled in computer science.”
WIT is already involved in delivery of upskilling courses for second-level maths teachers, which run for one to two years either full-time or part-time.
The college plans to devise a teacher-training course in computer science, and started offering coding lessons to local second-level students last year.
Consultations on making coding available in primary schools are to begin later this year.
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