Just 34 teachers accredited to teach computer science at second level even though Ireland is aiming to be digital leader in Europe

Lack of qualified teachers holding back take-up in key Leaving Cert subject

Computer science was introduced as a Leaving Cert subject in September 2018. Photo: Getty Images

Katherine Donnelly

A lack of qualified teachers is holding back the take-up of computer science in second-level schools across the country, according to a new report.

At the start of the current school year, there were only 34 accredited computer science teachers, researchers found.

While there were 140 teachers involved with the Leaving Cert computer science training programme, the vast majority did not have Teaching Council accreditation for the subject.

Computer science is struggling when compared with two other recently introduced Leaving Cert subjects, PE and politics and society, which are regarded as easier to implement.

These are among the main findings of the “Capacity for, Access to, and Participation in Computer Science Education in Ireland” report.

The research was led by Dr Cornelia Connolly of the School of Education in the University of Galway, and supported by tech giant Google.

The report identified the challenges to digital teaching and learning in schools and how to address them.

Dr Connolly said although the education system had embraced computing in the curriculum, “we are a long way off making this important 21st- century subject available to all students”.

Computer science was introduced as a Leaving Cert subject in September 2018, initially in 40 post-primary schools and has been available to all 728 schools since September 2020.

At the time of the research last year, take-up had grown to 114 schools and while it has further increased since then, computer science lags well behind two other new Leaving Cert subjects, PE and politics and society.

Compared with the 34 accredited computer science teachers in August of last year, there were 3,234 recognised for PE teaching and 102 for politics and society.

In 2022, 2.8pc of Leaving Cert candidates were entered for computer science, against 8.5pc for PE and 4.2pc for politics and society.

As well as low uptake for Leaving Cert computer science, only 117 out of 728 post-primary schools were offering coding to junior cycle students. This has been available as a short course since 2016.

In focus group meetings with school leaders and teachers, researchers were told that a lack of qualified teachers was the number one barrier to making computer science and coding available at their school.

As well as a shortage of teachers, the report says that the take-up of computer science at Leaving Cert is limited by the low number of schools offering coding at junior cycle.

The report points to time- table challenges in the face of the requirement for a mandatory 400 hours to be allocated to wellbeing at junior-cycle level.

The research team also identified a significant gender gap in participation – last year, 60pc of junior-cycle coding, and 70pc of computer-science students were male.

The report states that all students attending primary and post-primary school should  have equal opportunity to develop basic computer science understanding and skills, including computational thinking and coding.

It notes that as Ireland was working to become a digital leader at the heart of European and global digital developments, the development of computing skills was essential to this transformation.