Why Our Schools Need Computer Science

The Big Read, sponsored by Vodafone: I was interested to hear the news that Computer Science is finally going to be offered to Leaving Cert students. The news is very welcome, though some may be surprised to learn that it won’t be the first time the subject was offered for the Leaving Cert curriculum in Ireland.

25 years ago, I took Computer Science at school (Crescent College Comprehensive in Co. Limerick) as part of an experimental programme whereupon the University of Limerick recognised it the same way it did Physics or Applied Maths for entry to university courses. Having studied the subject then, I can see the potential it has to radically change the way coding is learned in Ireland, and open it up to a much larger audience. For me, it was a course which allowed me to explore further my interest in coding, which started with a Commodore 64 and self-taught BASIC skills. Though I went into it with an interest in computers, I’m sure the course introduced many others to coding for the first time and helped them discover that they too had an aptitude for it. We learned Pascal, 8086 Assembly programming, how a Central Processing Unit (CPU) works, how to write flowcharts… all in the experimental and open-minded environment instigated by our teacher, Eamon Stack.

A Computer Science course at Leaving Cert level, along with a more sensible admissions system to third level, is vital for students and the country right now.

The teaching of Computer Science will not only allow Leaving Cert students to determine if they have a talent or a passion for coding, but could also potentially help third level institutions with the selection of students for degree courses. Right now, the many universities and ITs that teach Computer Science exclude countless capable students by insisting on higher level maths for entry. In 25 years of working in tech, I’ve never required that level of maths knowledge and fail to see why this emphasis has been put on one single subject. I progressed through the school system before this requirement existed, and having been accepted to NIHE Limerick I graduated with a 1st in Computer Systems, going on to build a successful career in tech – ordinary level maths notwithstanding. Of course, Computer Science and coding can teach mathematical problem-solving skills, but at their core they are creative disciplines which require innovative solutions to solve existing problems.

A Computer Science course at Leaving Cert level, along with a more sensible admissions system to third level, is vital for students and the country right now. Looking at it from an economic standpoint, the benefits are obvious. This country is now home to the headquarters of the likes of Facebook, Twitter, Dropbox, and of course Google. These companies have been calling out for a change in the education system, one which recognises the importance of Computer Science and coding. Most recently, the managing director of SMB sales (EMEA) at Google, Fionnuala Meehan, said that the Irish Government needs to add computer science to the curriculum to secure jobs, while others have gone so far as to describe the lack of Computer Science on the Irish Leaving Cert as ‘worrying.’

This important change to the Irish school curriculum won’t happen overnight. It will require significant preparation to ensure that (a) it is relevant and (b) the resources are in place to ensure it is taught correctly. My early programming career involved writing code to build graphical interfaces, neural networks to train the inept (mainly myself) to play the guitar and to manage core banking systems – none of which required a math degree, but necessitated plenty of hard work and creativity. Based on my own experience, the re-introduction of a second level Computer Science course that encourages students to explore computing and coding in a creative manner will greatly benefit both the education system and students, not to mention Ireland as a progressive, tech-forward nation.

Tony Corrigan is the CEO of TenderScout

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