Leaving Certificate Computer Science has finally been introduced as a subject into Irish secondary schools as a pilot scheme from September 2018 to June 2020.

Stephen Murphy, CSTAI founder, Teacher of Computer Science, Coding, Digital Media, Science and Biology in Gaelcholáiste Mhuire (A.G.) in Cork City.

Stephen Murphy, CSTAI founder, Teacher of Computer Science, Coding, Digital Media, Science and Biology in Gaelcholáiste Mhuire (A.G.) in Cork City.

— By Stephen Murphy

Forty schools around the country are trialling the subject as part of the pilot scheme. These range from urban schools, rural schools, mixed, boys-only, girls-only, DEIS, non-DEIS, English-speaking schools and Gaelcoláistí.

A long time coming

The introduction of computer science as a rigorous, standalone subject in Irish education has been a long time coming. In the 1970s and 1980s, public, private and voluntary bodies in Ireland started working together to try and implement computing into the mainstream of Irish schools [1]. These attempts at co-operation were not successful despite the organisations offering training and hardware to teachers in the area of computing.

The introduction of computer science as a standalone subject in Irish education has been a long time coming. In the 1970s and 1980s, public, private & voluntary bodies in Ireland started working together to implement computing into the mainstreamClick To Tweet

Leaving Cert Maths

From its inception in 1980 to the mid-1990s, the Leaving Certificate mathematics course has a computer studies option. This component did not form part of any exam. The only recognition was a certificate of competence awarded by the Department of Education awarding upon completion of a form by the student and school.

In a current Honours Leaving Certificate maths course, it could be argued that the time needed to teach coding in this subject does not exist and so this would explain the low-uptake of the option inside the school day [1]. There is also no proof needed that the student actually completed the course. There have also been attempts to include some programming into the applied mathematics course in Leaving Certificate [2].

Increased interest in ICT in schools in 2000s

In the early 2000s, there was great interest in the area of ICT in schools (dubbed IT2000 by the Department of Education and Skills). An investigation into the ICT resources in Irish schools [3] found:

  • 70% of schools have a qualified ICT teacher and the majority of these are qualified to Masters and degree level.
  • There is an alarmingly high ICT teacher to student ratio.
  • The vast majority of schools offer ICT. Only a few schools offer Computer Science topics to their students.
  • CS is offered as an after-school club to students.
  • ICT labs are in place in nearly all of responsive schools.
  • Other ICT hardware is available in schools (e.g. printer, scanner).
  • There is a lack of a unified ICT curriculum in schools across the country.

Short JC course in coding heralded by NCCA in 2013

In 2013, the National Council for Curriculum and Assessment published a draft report for programming and coding for a short Junior Certificate course [4]. The aim of the course was as follows:

“The course aims to develop the student’s ability to formulate problems logically, to design, write and test code, to develop games, apps, animations and websites and, through these learning activities, to learn about computer science.”

The Leaving Cert Computer Science specification

The Leaving Certificate Computer Science (LCCS) specification [5] was written based on an international standard of best practice in Computer Science education in secondary schools: Ontario, New Zealand, England, Scotland and Israel. 126 schools applied for the pilot scheme, 40 schools were successful.

The Leaving Certificate Computer Science specification is composed of three strands:

  1. Practices and Principles
  2. Core Concepts
  3. Computer Science in Practice

These 3 strands are interwoven. Below is a brief description taken from the specification for each strand:

Strand 1

The overarching practices and principles of computer science are the behaviours and ways of thinking that computer scientists use. This strand underpins the specification and is fundamental to all learning activities.

Strand 2

The core concepts of computer science represent the major areas in the field of computer science: abstraction, data, computer systems, algorithms and evaluation/testing. Students engage with the core concepts theoretically and practically in this strand.

Strand 3

Computer Science in practice provides multiple opportunities for students to apply the practices and principles and the core concepts. Students work in teams to carry out four applied learning tasks over the duration of the course, each of which results in the creation of a real or virtual computational artefact. These artefacts should relate to the students’ lives and interests. Where possible, the artefacts should be beneficial to the community and society in general.

Computer Science in practice provides multiple opportunities for students to apply the practices and principles and the core concepts. Students work in teams to carry out four applied learning tasks over the duration of the course Click To Tweet

A more specific breakdown of each strand can be seen in the table below:

Strand 1 Strand 2 Strand 3
Computers and Society Abstraction Interactive information systems
Computational thinking Algorithms Analytics
Design and development Computer Systems Modelling and simulation
Data Embedded systems
Evaluation and testing

Challenges

The challenges of Computer Science education are:

  • Equipment/ Logistics
  • Teacher availability
  • Embracing the pedagogy of the specification
  • The 2nd and 3rd wave of schools after 2020 will be problematic due to lack of proper pedagogy.

Key messages

The key messages to take away from the LCCS specification are:

  • LCCS is for everyone
  • There are many ways to use the specification
  • The Learning Outcomes can be taught in any order
  • LCCS should be taught in a constructivist manner
  • LCCS is a practical subject like music, not physics
  • Digital technologies will enhance collaboration, learning and reflection
  • Both the students and teachers must have “Growth Mindset”
  • Teachers must practice reflection in their work and make sure that they challenge any assumptions they have about teaching computer science to second-level students in Ireland.

Computer Science Teachers’ Association of Ireland (Ríomheol Oidí na hÉireann)

The Computer Science Teachers’ Association of Ireland (CSTAI) was founded in November 2017. To date, we have over 760 members and 36 of the 40 Leaving Certificate Computer Science pilot schools have joined. While the vast majority of our members are from the Republic of Ireland, a sizable amount hail from the UK and as far away as the US, Middle East and Oceania.

Resources

The CSTAI offers a free collection of resources for Computer Science, Coding, Digital Media, Computing and IT/ICT on a Google Drive where the members can access, download and modify for their classes needs. Examples of such resources are PowerPoints, Notes, worksheets and videos.

  • These resources cover from the early primary level to Junior Certificate Coding/ Digital Media and finally onto Leaving Certificate Computer Science.
  • We have many resources as Gaeilge.
  • We have recently started a e-zine: Ré na Ríomheolas. This magazine contains articles from teachers of the digital subjects, 3rd level academics and organisations similar to the CSTAI who have an interest in the development of the subject in Ireland.

Links abroad

The Leaving Certificate Computer Science resources are currently being created and aligned with our specification. In order to fill the gap that currently exists, the CSTAI has made links with other Computer Science teacher organisations in England, Northern Ireland, America, Australia and New Zealand to provide resources for Irish teachers.

Irish Language

The CSTAI places a strong emphasis on the Irish Language and offers a set of hundreds of technical computing terminology translated into Irish. We also offer a set of worksheets for JC coding as Gaeilge and a full set of PowerPoints for the teaching of LC CS in Irish.

Join for free

One of the main reasons the CSTAI was established was to promote sharing of ideas and resources between teachers. Joining and accessing all the CSTAI has to offer is completely free. Any teacher with an interest in doing their own CPD on the above subjects or wanting to be kept in the “for-loop” about the goings on in Leaving Cert Computer Science is encouraged to join.

One of the main reasons the CSTAI was established was to promote sharing of ideas and resources between teachers. Joining and accessing all the CSTAI has to offer is completely freeClick To Tweet

If you would like to get involved in this exchange of teaching resources, please email: [email protected]

References

[1] Moynihan, Michael D (1985). Computer education Ireland: a case study.

[2] NCCA AM: http://www.ncca.ie/en/file/post_primary/BP-Applied-Maths_Eng.pdf

[3] Song (2013) ICT Education Research For Second Level Schools In Ireland.

[4] NCCA (2013): http://www.juniorcycle.ie/NCCA_JuniorCycle/media/NCCA/Documents/Consultation/Short%20Courses/SC_P_and_C.pdf

[5] NCA LCCS Specification (2017) https://www.ncca.ie/media/3184/lc-computerscience.pdf

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CSTAI is on social media:

https://www.facebook.com/ComputerScienceTeachersAssocationIreland/

https://twitter.com/cstai_tweets

Please look at information page:

https://tinyurl.com/compscitechireland

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Interested in reading more? – To see how far we’ve come in relation to Computer Science check out this piece from 2011 – Science Education at a crossroad.

And remember to find us on Twitter @EdMatters and use the hashtag #EducationMatters to keep the conversation going.