Ireland Ed Minister Pushes for Early Coding Education

(Photo: Pixabay, Creative Commons)

(Photo: Pixabay, Creative Commons)

Irish Minister for Education and Skill Richard Bruton has sent an official letter to the National Council for Curriculum and Assessment (NCCA) to point out the advantages of including coding classes in primary school.

The NCCA is currently drafting a new framework for the primary curriculum and is also working on an innovative math curriculum, with the updated policies scheduled to be completed next spring. That means it would be no earlier than September 2018 before the first coding classes take place in the Irish schools.

In his letter to NCCA chief executive Dr. Anne Looney, Bruton said he aimed to ensure that each child in Ireland would have the chance to build and develop computer skills as well as his or her flexible and creative thinking abilities. The Minister gave as an example the success of the CoderDojo project, which is hugely popular among the children across the country. According to him, CoderDojo teaches kids creative problem-solving skills in a way they find exciting and engaging:

“For the generation of children recently born and starting to enter primary school, creative thinking, and problem-solving skills will be absolutely key to how they develop . . . and achieve their potential. I am acutely conscious that we need to give all children the best start in a world where such skills will be key to participation and success.”

Professor Brian MacCraith of Dublin University welcomed the idea and referred to CoderDojo as a project with “amazing potential.” He also said that focusing on the meeting point of digital technology, critical thinking, problem-solving and creativity would be helpful for the children.

Although the letter’s focus was on primary schools in particular, voices have risen for coding to be included further up the education system, writes Gordon Hunt of the Silicon Republic.

Last winter, Google’s Fionnuala Meehan proposed that computer science and coding should be added to the Leaving Cert curriculum. Meehan also emphasized that based on tech giant’s experience, it was important that every student in Ireland have access to Computer Science education from an early age.

At Junior Cert level in several Irish schools, the changes are on the way already with trial classes. However, according to professionals, coding education would be most beneficial if started earlier.

Both Irish policy makers and the IT sector agree there is a serious shortage of skilled young graduates to fill the gaps in the field, notes Carl O’Brien of The Irish Times. The government has been working on the issue by introducing several measures including bonus points for maths in the Leaving Cert. The reforms are under way in the senior cycle curriculum as well, aiming to increase the number of students in science, technology, maths, and engineering classes.

According to Katherine Donnelly of the Irish Independent, the inclusion of Computer Science classes might be met with criticism. One of the problems is that the students’ curriculum is already overcrowded, and some academics believe it would be better if such specific skills are taught later.

Meanwhile, the first CoderDojo book, called My First Website, is already available for pre-order. The book helps kids and their parents learn basic programming skills, languages such as HTML, and web design.