Study: More teachers need to be trained for computer science subject

More detailed research is needed on teacher training requirements before the planned introduction of computer science as a Leaving Certificate subject proceeds, experts have advised.

Earlier this month, Education Minister Richard Bruton set a target of having the subject as a choice for fifth-year students from September 2018, a year earlier than previously planned.

However, a report to the National Council for Curriculum and Assessment, which will be responsible for designing the curriculum, raises issues around the experiences of introducing computer science at second-level in other countries.

The research says that, despite challenges to implementation, the rapid growth in the international importance of computer science educational programmes suggest it is an opportune time to introduce the subject.

The study was prepared by Lero (the Irish Software Research Centre), University of Limerick’s National Centre for Science, Technology, Engineering, and Maths Education, and the Third-level Computing Forum.

It highlighted low take-up rates in countries where computer science has been first introduced, or where existing courses were overhauled in recent years.

While there was a particularly low uptake by girls, those who did the subject tended to get better grades than boys.

Among the challenges was having enough people to teach the subject and to have them adequately trained once the course has been finalised by the NCCA.

It should receive feedback on a draft curriculum from Mr Bruton’s department by early summer.

The report says a key challenge in each of the countries it examined — England, Scotland, Canada, Israel, and New Zealand — was to ensure teachers were supported in their professional development to acquire knowledge and skills around the subject, curriculum, and teaching methods.

“From an Irish perspective, the more recent implementations [England, Scotland, and New Zealand] offer many valuable lessons on the provision of pre- service and in-service professional development of teachers, warranting the undertaking of further detailed research,” it said.

In New Zealand, a digital technology programme was introduced very rapidly in 2011, with little over two years between an expert report calling for its introduction and the subject being taught in schools.

“This accelerated approach meant that existing teachers had little time to prepare for the changes, with these preparations further hampered by the limited availability of formal training and other resources,” the report said.

There were thousands of information and communications technology (ICT) teachers in England when the subject was replaced in 2012 with a new course consisting of computer science, IT and digital literacy. 

But the report cautions about the need to distinguish between computer science and ICT.

The experts told the NCCA an Irish curriculum should give students appropriate learning opportunities in computer science earlier in their schooling, citing the current pilot of a junior cycle short course in coding as a good example.

Consultations on the introduction of coding to primary schools are to begin later this year.


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