Saturday 22 October 2016

Ireland can't afford to fall behind in IT skills for children

Mary Dunphy Moloney

Published 18/11/2015 | 02:30

'We need to ensure our young people are gaining relevant skills'
'We need to ensure our young people are gaining relevant skills'

Coding - what is it exactly? If you ask any of the kids involved in the CoderDojo movement, they'd very quickly answer without missing a beat: "It's the stuff I type that makes my computer do cool things."

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The intricacies of programming and coding are just another part of their world. They are developing the skills that allow them to build great websites, apps and games, all on their own.

CoderDojo, an Irish-founded charitable organisation and movement, now reaches more than 40,000 children and young people in 850 free-of-charge, volunteer-led clubs in 62 countries around the world every month.

But we need to reach more; all kids in Ireland should have the opportunity to build technology skills.

The skills demand for ICT talent is a global one.

This year, it is estimated there will be a shortage of up to 864,000 ICT professionals across the EU. According to the 2014 report from Action Plan for ICT, Ireland is likely to face an average increase in demand for high-level ICT skills of around 5pc a year to 2018, with the employment of ICT professionals anticipated to rise to just over 91,000.

The report indicates a continuing strong demand for high-level ICT skills with an additional 44,500 job openings forecast to arise over the period to 2018, from both expansion and replacement demand.

As traditional industries decline and fail, technology has become one of the fastest-growing sectors of the economy and computer programming is increasingly recognised as a core competency for all workers of the future.

Even today, there are few jobs for which having a technology skill isn't an advantage. Computer programmers enjoy high salaries, exciting challenges and opportunities to shape the world around them.

Coding will also be vital for the future economic development of the country. Without a skilled, talented, technology savvy workforce, Ireland will not be able to compete in attracting Foreign Direct Investment or in continuing to build on the vibrant start-up environment that's starting to take shape.

Remote and virtual working is becoming more prevalent - any tech resource from anywhere around the world can start to compete for jobs.

We need to continue to support jobs in Ireland by ensuring our young people are building marketable and relevant skills.

CoderDojo is about equipping kids with the technology skills they're going to need to be successful in life.

It's also about tapping into the natural fearlessness that children have with technology, empowering them and enabling them as change makers and innovators.

There isn't a national policy on introducing technology skills to children at any levels in the formal education system.

Neither are there readily available resources to support teachers in their attempts to introduce technology into their classrooms.

There are examples around the country of schools and teachers who have addressed this themselves but the approach and impact is hit and miss.

Other countries are making step changes in education to address technology skill building; Ireland is starting to fall behind.

Of course, not every child will want to write code for a living, but every child can benefit from having done it.

More to the point, I believe every child, regardless of gender or background, should have a chance to give it a try.

Coding hones maths and language skills, and builds problem solving, analytical thinking and logical reasoning abilities. It also fosters the most incredible innovation and creativity in our kids.

Mary Dunphy Moloney is Global CEO of the CoderDojo Foundation. The Hour of Code takes place from December 7-13

Irish Independent

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