Ready for tomorrow's world
The advent of the information age over two decades ago changed the world utterly. It revolutionised the way we communicate and the way we do business, and it has also changed the way we deliver education.
Ireland's position as a global hub for technology companies remains stable, despite the recent downturn. We remain the second biggest exporter of IT services in the world and have attracted the likes of Microsoft, Google, Twitter, Apple and EMC, with the sector accounting for about €70bn in Irish exports.
Despite the boom in this sector, there is a shortage of skilled programmers in Ireland. This has resulted in technology companies recruiting skilled IT workers beyond our shores. An Irish workforce that is competent at coding will stem that inward flow of recruitment. The place to start this process must be in the classroom.
In order for the technology industry to remain a strong pillar of the Irish economy, the Irish workforce must evolve with the ever-changing requirements of the sector. There are many employment opportunities for graduates to exploit. A recent Forfas report predicts that there will be a 5pc rise every year in tech sector jobs in Ireland until at least 2018, creating 44,000 new vacancies. Currently, the sector employs 105,000 people. The most radical step to ensure that more graduates are competent in coding is for it to be made a Leaving Cert subject.
Coding is a universal language used by millions that transcends all nationalities and which makes an immeasurable contribution to the digital age. Having coding as a Leaving Cert subject would put Ireland on a par with the education system in the UK, which will soon introduce coding as a mandatory subject across all state schools.
Over a decade ago, Israel updated its post-primary curriculum to include ICT as a subject. New Zealand recently did the same, with Australia, Finland and Denmark considering doing likewise.
Two former students of ours at Castletroy College in Limerick, Patrick and John Collison, sold their first company, Auctomatic, to Canadian firm Live Current Media for €3.2m when they were 17 and 19, respectively.
Their success in the technology field at such a young age - Patrick began to learn programming at 11 - shows the potential of having the acquired knowledge of computer coding and software development.
The popularity of CoderDojo, a non-profit group founded by then second-level student James Whelton, and Bill Liao, shows that there is an appetite for learning how to code. What James started as a school computer club is now a global movement.
There are obvious challenges to including coding as a full subject in the Leaving Cert. Firstly, it is not cheap. It will require highly skilled teachers and up-to-date equipment that must be upgraded and maintained to industry standards. While the rollout of this subject will not be easy, this is not a reason not to do so and its introduction should start as soon as possible.
We must make the students of 21st century Ireland fit for purpose and able to meet the exponential growth of technological demands on our society.
Reading and writing became prevalent in the industrial age, and coding is the language of the digital age. We cannot afford to let Irish students get left behind in a more globalised world.
Padraig Flanagan is a past president of the National Association of Principals and Deputy Principals and is the Principal of Castletroy College in Limerick