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Nation can't afford to lose yet another 1,000 jobs in IT sector

When we talk about the teaching of languages in schools, people obviously refer to French, German, Spanish, Irish and so on. But a crucial "language" of the 21st Century all too often is overlooked or not even considered -- the language of computer programming.

It is clear that day by day the ability to engage in what is loftily referred to as computational thinking is becoming more and more important. It is, of course, important in terms of jobs and the smart economy and all of that but it is also fast becoming vital in terms of understanding the world we live in and how it operates.

As far back as 2006, educationalists and scientists around the globe have been calling for basic literacy measurements for children to include understanding computer processes. Yet a study shows that young Ireland continues to lag behind many European countries when it comes to our citizens having basic computer skills.

A new EuroStat study shows that 54 per cent of young Irish people between the ages of 16 and 24 have used basic arithmetic formulas in a computer spreadsheet. This is 13 per cent behind the EU average of 67 per cent. Similarly 82 per cent of Irish people aged 16 to 24 copied or moved a file compared with 89 per cent across the EU.

Last week alone we saw a headline stating that almost 1,000 jobs in IT in this country had to be filled from abroad due to a lack of suitable Irish candidates. This is shocking.

At a time of extremely high unemployment in this country, to have jobs filled from abroad tells quite a sorry tale.

Yes, our third-level institutions are doing good work in the area of technology and a growing stream of IT graduates are emerging. But we must go further. We must be international leaders in providing young people with IT skills -- not dragging up the European rearguard.

This doesn't mean everyone coming out of an Irish school needs to be a computer programmer. Not at all. But we do need to go beyond seeing the computer as an optional extra at second-level.

Many teachers and schools are showing leadership and innovation in this area. It's high time that they were supported with proper recognition given to the importance of equipping our next generation with skills in the language of computers. It's easy to talk about a "smart economy". Talk is cheap. It's much more difficult to radically reform the teaching of IT and computers in schools. More difficult, perhaps, but also much more rewarding.

Simon Harris is a Fine Gael TD for Wicklow-East Carlow and a member of the Public Accounts Committee

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