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Leaving Cert computer science a ‘fair exam with some challenges’

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Leaving Cert Computer Science students Chelsie Flood and Heather Murphy (right) after their exam at Colaiste Bride Presentation Secondary School in Clondalkin. Photo by Steve Humphreys, 22nd May 2021.

Leaving Cert Computer Science students Chelsie Flood and Heather Murphy (right) after their exam at Colaiste Bride Presentation Secondary School in Clondalkin. Photo by Steve Humphreys, 22nd May 2021.

Leaving Cert Computer Science students Chelsie Flood and Heather Murphy (right) after their exam at Colaiste Bride Presentation Secondary School in Clondalkin. Photo by Steve Humphreys, 22nd May 2021.

Leaving Cert 2021 got off to an early and positive start for students sitting the new subject of computer science, with general agreement from teachers that the papers were fair.

Up to 500 candidates were entered for the exam, comprising of a written paper and an online element, where students had to modify and add to a computer program and save their answers on a memory stick.

Like all Leaving Cert exams this year, students were offered a lot more choice in and between questions to take account of months of Covid-related school closures.

Association of Secondary Teachers’ Ireland (ASTI) subject representative Mark Walshe said students welcomed the extra choice, although some still found it challenging and overall there was a “mixed reaction”.
Mr Walshe, who teaches at St Finian’s Community College, Swords, Co Dublin, said while the short questions at higher level were OK, some of the Section B questions, were “very long” and students may have struggled to answer a full single question.

In Section C, the computer-based paper, he said higher level students would have “needed a good understanding to get through the question”. At ordinary level, it was “fairly straightforward”.

Tony McGennis of Errigal College, Letterkenny, Co Donegal said the papers reflected the spirit of the course in that students had to apply knowledge and skills, rather than rehashing facts.

“Problem-solving was to the fore and these skills in computation thinking and coding were learned by practising over the two years, ” he said.

Pauric O’Donnell of St Eunan’s, Letterkenny, agreed that the higher level paper was true to the specification and it was a “fair exam with a few challenging parts”

Suzanne Linnane of Adamstown Community College Co Dublin said some aspects at higher level were ”unexpected and surprising but not in a bad way.”

Martin O’Keeffe of Colaiste Bríde, Clondalkin, Co Dublin said the higher level paper presented “a nice challenge” that allowed for a “and sense of achievement when you completed it” .

Colm Kiely, of Sacred Heart Secondary School, Clonakilty, Co Cork, thought the higher level paper was “tough, but the choice helped.”

He described the short questions as OK, and said Section B was a “step up from last year,” which was the first time the subject was examined. Mr Kiely said the computer-based element as “very fair”.

A number of teachers commented that the final part of the computer-based paper was “challenging”.

At ordinary level, one teacher regarded the exam as ”similar to higher level last year but the choice helped.” It was not unfair, the teacher said

This year, and in November 2020, the exam was taken by students in 39 schools that piloted the subject. About 50 more schools took it on last September and next September students in about 140 schools will be doing the subject,

At the all-girls’ Colaiste Bride, Clondalkin, uptake in the subject is growing steadily , and teacher Sarah-Jayne Carey encouraged colleagues in other schools to take on what she described as ”a great subject to teach”.
Adrienne Webb, chair of the Computers in Education Society Ireland (CESI) said there was a lot of interest in the subject and it would go from strength to strength, but, at the moment, the challenge was encouraging enough teachers to upskill and take it on.



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