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More resources needed to encourage students to engage in digital options

November 24th, 2021 7:10 AM

By Brian Moore

Marian Carey, principal of Coláiste Pobail Bheanntraí, with deputy principal Niamh O’Leary: theirs is the only school in West Cork offering computer science as an option to Leaving Certs. (Photo: Tony McElhinney)

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Despite computer science being included as an exam subject for the past two years, just one West Cork school is currently offering computer science to its Leaving Certs

COMPUTER science has been introduced as a Leaving Cert subject since 2020, but there is currently just one school in the West Cork area offering it to pupils as an option – Coláiste Pobail Bheanntraí.

However, the Ludgate digital hub in Skibbereen, having spotted this huge gap in digital education, says it is taking steps to address the situation.

Furthermore, Social Democrats TD Holly Cairns is now calling on the Department of Education to provide all the necessary resources to ensure that second level students here are not disadvantaged when choosing the subject at third level.

Deputy Cairns made the call after it was reported that the numbers of students who are failing or dropping out of computer studies in third level institutions is on the increase. The dropout rate has been attributed to a lack of a preparatory module at Leaving Cert level.

‘Computer science is an incredibly relevant subject for the contemporary digital society and economy. We need more young people with the skills to lead these industries into the future,’ Deputy Cairns,’ told The Southern Star.

‘While the introduction of computer science to the Leaving Cert is very welcome, the reality is that the Department of Education needs to provide the necessary resources, especially in terms of staffing and infrastructure,’ she said.

Coláiste Pobail Bheanntraí stands out as the only school in West Cork offering the subject for the Leaving Cert.

‘While computer science is included on the curriculum at Leaving Cert we are constrained by many factors which include staff expertise, time and will there be a sufficient uptake,’ Marian Carey, principal at Coláiste Pobail Bheanntraí, explained.

‘We take computer studies extremely seriously here in Bantry, and we have introduced coding as a short course in the Junior Cert cycle. We have also started a digital media short course.

‘For the future, we will be looking at introducing computer studies for the Leaving in fourth year in 2023, but we have to see how many are interested.’

Prof Barry O’Sullivan, director at the insight centre for data analytics, school of computer science & IT at University College Cork, feels that while students who achieve the required points are entering computer science at UCC with good knowledge of the subject, it is vital that as many students as possible are exposed to more than just being able to use a computer.

‘Computer science is much more than just being able to use a computer,’ Prof O’Sullivan said.

‘More students should be able to study this subject at Leaving Cert level because computer science is incredibly important for the future of the country no matter what career they decide to go into after college.’

A spokesperson for the Department of Education confirmed that the initial introductory phase of Leaving Certificate computer science has been available nationally as an optional subject since September 2020.

‘The introduction of this new subject to schools is also supported by a Leaving Certificate computer science support framework. This framework represents a collaboration between the Department of Education, the Computers in Education Society of Ireland (CESI), PDST, the Irish Universities Association (IUA), higher education institutions, Ibec, the technological higher education association (THEA) and Solas.’

However, a recent study by the Higher Education Authority (HEA) has shown that between 60 and 80% of students in some third level computing and engineering courses are dropping out, with young men with low Leaving Cert points at a particularly high risk of failing to complete their college courses.

Dr Kieran Collins, education innovation manager at the Ludgate Hub in Skibbereen feels that more should be done to give students an opportunity to study computer science at Leaving Cert level in West Cork.

‘The development and attraction of high-level ICT skills is crucial to the growth of the Irish economy and job creation, and has been over many years. Ireland has established itself as a hub for the technology sector, and has formally sought to meet its associated skills needs through the ICT skills action plan,’ Dr Collins said. ‘Leaving Certificate computer science was recently introduced to support bridging the skills gap, he added. ‘There is currently no Leaving Certificate computer science offered between Clonakilty and Killarney, and 95% of schools in Cork county are not offering it to students. ‘Ludgate wishes to help address this issue by supporting the delivery of computer science as an extra subject for Leaving Certificate 2023, and with this in mind we want to survey just how many students would be interested in studying it as a Leaving Cert subject.’

To take part in the survey, log on to Ludgate.ie.

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