by Michael Tighe
Posted on 7th September 2018 at 4:28 pm
If I were to ask you do Irish students really need to learn Geography or even Mathematics at school any more you might be shocked. How could you even ask, you might say. But what do we really remember from those subjects?
How many of us are using the critical elements of probability calculations or the fundamentals of ‘the water cycle’ (precipitation, collection, evaporation, condensation – for those of you who’ve forgotten)?
Remembering the details in some ways is not what matters in the long-term, it is that you got the basics and got to find out if it was something that really sparked your interest.
And now, if someone asked you where does rain come from, or if someone told you the probability of it raining tomorrow you would know what to google to find the answer to the first part, and understand that a 75% probability of showers tomorrow means pack a brolly.
Coding, computing and computational thinking are just the same. No, you don’t need to learn it any more than you need to learn Science but why do we only ask this question when it comes to IT?
Coding, computing, and computational thinking are terms that currently dominate the debate on digital skills development in Ireland and worldwide. This is influenced by the rising demand for ICT specialists in the labour market, everyone is looking for ways to provide the skills demanded for the current and next generation of students and young people.
We, in Ireland, are even more cognizant of the need for IT skills for lots of reasons. Firstly because we are a very tech savvy country by virtue of the fact that almost 1 million of us have done our ECDL (about half of the Irish workforce), which means most of us learned the basic digital skills to thrive in a modern workspace and also because we are more dependent on the tech-sector for employment than almost any other economy in the world.
Computing is a subject that contributes to the intellectual and personal development of young people: it stimulates creativity, critical and logical thinking, problem solving, and facilitates understanding of how digital technologies function. In other words, computing transforms students from consumers to creators of the digital world.
Coding/programming is only one element of computing. Hence, when computing is introduced to children in school, teaching should begin with the basics of computational thinking and problem solving, followed by the practical implementation, such as coding.
Forbes regularly lists Computing Skills as one of the ‘must-have’ skills for people today (along with communication skills, creativity, curiosity, good writing ability, ability to play well with others, and adaptability). Oddly computing and writing are the only ones we can teach directly but we only teach one of them!
As Forbes says, “…virtually every employer – regardless of the field – now seeks candidates with some degree of computer literacy. Even creative fields like art and design rely heavily on computer programs these days. We live in a technologically advanced world, and many of the processes that were formerly done manually are now automated. Therefore, being computer literate is a must-have.”
Every student should have an opportunity to learn the fundamentals of computing at school in order not only to be able to specialise in this discipline at later stages of education if they want to but to also be able to communicate with those who do know about IT technicalities when they want something from the IT guy in future!
We need a standardised approach to teaching computing, particularly below third-level. It should encompass both computing and digital literacy as two substantial elements of digital competence.
The ECDL Computing module, aimed at secondary school students, sets out essential concepts and skills relating to the use of computational thinking and coding.
It is relevant, not only for students who are interested in computing, but also for those who wish to develop transversal skills such as problem solving skills. The course certifies skills acquired either during extra-curricular activities or as part of the more formal curriculum.