Judith Cochrane MLA said: “The issue of how best to educate our young people in order to meet the demands of a culture increasingly-focused on technology has gone unaddressed, with the result being a society ill-equipped to stand-out and compete in a globally-lucrative market. In Northern Ireland much of the focus has been on equipping our students with basic abilities to navigate and utilise computers in all walks of life, as a tool to undertake work or study, yet this has sadly been to the detriment of computer programming, itself a very distinct skill. It has often been overlooked in the education curriculum, but it is hugely important for developing our workforce and attracting industrious and high value jobs to our shores.
“In recent months I have been engaged with key stakeholders from across the education and industry sectors to explore concerns and difficulties surrounding Computer Science Education in Northern Ireland. I have become increasingly aware of concerns that the trend in second level education is to move towards ICT and away from Computing, with the former seen to be more accessible as a subject for a wider range of pupils. They are concerned at the resulting loss of skills in computer coding, necessary for the gaming and software industry, but most worryingly, the message is that students are being “turned off” by computer science, adhering to the notion that the subject is dull and pedestrian.
“I firmly believe that with the logic skills that are required for computer science and the potential job opportunities that are available in this industry, we in the Assembly should be doing all we can to support and encourage our young people to think seriously about computing, not simply as a study option, but as a career. For all these reasons and more, it was with great significance and delight that I spoke with Ian not too long ago about the initiative he and Gareth were undertaking, as they sought to design a book which would not only teach primary school children how to use code and reinforce the power of programming, but do so in a fun and understandable way, capturing the imagination and interest of our children at an early age.
“Within the Assembly I have been in on going correspondence with the Education Minister regarding the future prospects for our computer skills sector and I feel that positive steps have been made towards placing greater emphasis upon Computer Science. Furthermore as a party, we have sought to highlight and pursue the issue further, through our MP for East Belfast Naomi Long. Naomi has asked the Secretary of State for Education for his analysis of emerging trends for ICT/Computing being offered within schools as well as raising the prospect of promoting Computing and Programming within the primary and secondary curriculum. I know from speaking with Ian that we share common ground in our interpretation of the current situation, with the realisation that in order to be globally competitive in software and IT development, we need to place more emphasis on computer programming throughout the curriculum.
“Our education system, from primary right through to university, has a vital role to play in how we move forward in the pursuit of a cohesive strategy and curriculum, the first steps of which begin with ideas and initiatives such as this.”