Sunday 4 December 2016

Schools scramble to be first to offer pupils coding course

Published 14/03/2016 | 02:30

Young coder Niamh Scanlon, European Digital Girl of the Year 2016, with Coolest Project Organiser Noel King, and Jennie and Sarah McGinn of OPSH.com at the announcement of Launch’d, where the hottest 100 tech start-ups in Ireland will gather to inspire the country’s coolest young coders at the RDS on June 18. Below, coder Jake O’Toole. Photo Conor McCabe
Young coder Niamh Scanlon, European Digital Girl of the Year 2016, with Coolest Project Organiser Noel King, and Jennie and Sarah McGinn of OPSH.com at the announcement of Launch’d, where the hottest 100 tech start-ups in Ireland will gather to inspire the country’s coolest young coders at the RDS on June 18. Below, coder Jake O’Toole. Photo Conor McCabe
Jake O’Toole Coolest Projects pictured at the announcement of Launch’d. Photo: Conor McCabe Photography

The roll-out of computer coding classes will go ahead in September in second-level schools, despite the ongoing wrangle over junior cycle reform.

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There was huge demand from schools to be among the first to offer the new subject, which is being introduced as a new-style short course for junior cycle students.

Coding clubs, such as CoderDojo, have already shown the keen interest among "digital native" children and teenagers to develop computer programming skills.

The next step for many youngsters is the CoderDojo Coolest Projects Awards, established to help youngsters from seven to 17 become entrepreneurs.

Last year, it featured more than 500 entries from young people across Ireland and beyond, as well as 5,000 spectators.

The hope is that the new junior cycle course will tap into that enthusiasm and help lay foundations of knowledge and confidence to inspire the next generation of software engineers.

The absence of computing on the school curriculum is seen as a major omission in a country, and a world, relying heavily on computer graduates - and employers continually raise concerns about a skills shortage.

Even when school-leavers opt to pursue computing at third-level, the drop-out rate is high and attributed to a lack of understanding or preparedness for what is involved.

A pilot project to trial the new Exploring Coding course could accommodate teachers from only 20 schools, leaving another 100 disappointed that they were not included in the first round of training. The level of interest among schools is an indication that they expect considerable demand for the subject from prospective pupils.

The Association of Secondary Teachers' Ireland (ASTI) is not co-operating with junior cycle reforms, so only teachers who are members of the Teachers' Union of Ireland (TUI) are participating in the coding pilot project.

The training is being hosted by the Department of Education's Junior Cycle for Teachers (JCT) professional development service, in partnership with technology giant Intel and the Irish software engineering research centre LERO. Participating schools have received a bonus of state-of-the-art computer equipment for teachers and pupils from Intel.

Short courses are intended to broaden the learning experience for students and Chinese and artistic performance are among the other courses that will be introduced.

Five tips to help children get started

If you give your child the gift of coding, you open a new world of varied career opportunities for them.

However, many parents face a dilemma over what age to allow children web access and what equipment is appropriate.

This five-point guide is aimed at giving parents a clear pathway to help their children reach their potential in coding.

1 Most areas nationwide now have a CoderDojo within easy reach. Go along with your child to your local class and see for yourself how the classes work. More details can be found at www.coderdojo.com

2 Consider providing your child with a laptop or tablet to give them the tools to code. If not, your local CoderDojo may have laptops which can be shared.

Many parents may have concerns about giving their child such technology too young.

But coding provides a more rewarding outlet than playing games - it provides young people with the ability to create and explore games and technology.

3 Talk to your children about the web and exercise parental controls. The internet is an amazing place to learn but it also has its dangers.

While it is important to have parental controls in place to give your child controlled access to the web, it is also vital that you talk to them about the hidden dangers lurking online across all media platforms.

The net can be a powerful resource for learning and research. Make sure your children are clued in to how powerful it really is.

4 Time limits are well and good but children need time to practise code online and explore the technology across the web.

It is important to balance time to learn as opposed to giving your child too much screen time. This is a personal balance, which can only be decided by each individual parent.

5 Allow your child to learn at a comfortable pace and encourage them to experiment with code, create games or websites and problem solve around them.

Irish Independent

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