Cillian Sherlock, PA
Researchers at the University of Galway have identified a lack of accredited computer science teachers as a barrier to expanding participation in the subject.
Their report identifies that the State is experiencing a significant shortage of teachers, with maths, engineering and new Stem subjects such as computer science among the hardest vacancies to fill.
It found there were just 34 accredited computer science teachers before the start of the school year in August 2022.
The researchers said a total of 140 people are involved in teaching the computer science programme in secondary schools, with the vast majority doing so without Teaching Council accreditation.
The report, which was commissioned with the support of Google, highlighted that in 2022 only 15.6 per cent of post-primary schools offered computer science as a Leaving Certificate subject.
It found senior-cycle computer science study was limited by low numbers of post-primary schools offering coding for Junior Certificate.
The report titled Capacity For, Access To, And Participation In Computer Science Education In Ireland also identified a gender gap in the subject as 70 per cent of Leaving Certificate computer science students in 2022 were male, while 60 per cent of Junior Cycle coding students were boys.
The Leaving Certificate computer science curriculum was designed and published in 2017.
Dr Cornelia Connolly, lecturer in the University of Galway’s School of Education and lead author of the report, said: “Although the Irish education system has embraced computing in the curriculum at post-primary – by introducing coding as a Junior Cycle short course and computer science as a stand-alone Leaving Certificate subject – we are a long way off making this important 21st century subject available to all students.”
The report also highlights the necessity for education system to incorporate significantly more digital skill and computational development in schools if “we are to ensure the ongoing digital transformation of the economy”.
The researchers found a low level of understanding of the importance of the subject of computer science amongst students, teachers and the relevant stakeholders, with other courses, such as wellbeing, pushing coding and computer science off the timetable.
Researchers said there is a necessity for all students attending primary and post-primary school to have equal opportunity to develop basic computer science understanding and skills, including computational thinking and coding.
Dr Connolly added: “We need to develop a shared understanding and strengthen the acceptance of computer science as a foundational competence for all, enabling young people to become active participants in a digital economy and society.
“While young people are often assumed to be ‘digital natives’ who can pick up computer skills with ease, the research indicated this is not the case.
“Young people have a high level of access to phones and smart technology, yet teachers report that their technical use and understanding of computers is much lower.
“To address this, the report recommends that computing education needs to be introduced at an earlier age.”