Joyce Borges, Dr Clare McInerney and Professor Oliver McGarr are pictured reading the report outside Lero
Joyce Borges, Research Assistant LERO, Dr Clare McInerney, Education and Public Engagement Manager LERO and Professor Oliver McGarr reading the report Picture: Alan Place
Monday, 15 April 2024

Debunking misconceptions that Computer Science at Leaving Cert is only for “brainy” students and “nerds” is vital to attracting more pupils to the subject, a study by Lero, the Science Foundation Ireland Research Centre for Software, and University of Limerick has found.

Lero and UL researchers, who conducted a four-phase in-depth qualitative study interviewing fifth and sixth-year students from four schools, said students told them Computer Science is suitable for all students and not just those perceived as “brainy” students.

One of the study’s authors, Lero’s Professor Chris Exton, a lecturer in the Department of Computer Science at UL, said debunking these beliefs was essential to encourage more students to engage with and promote a more realistic view of Computer Science as a school subject and a career.

“The commonly held belief that Computer Science was a subject for ‘nerds’ was challenged by students, with the majority of students claiming the subject is for everyone, regardless of gender, previous experience or abilities. These findings contradict the popular conception that Leaving Cert Computer Science is suitable for a specific group of people with specific interests,” he explained.

Lero Education and Public Engagement Program Manager Dr Clare McInerney said that in a technology-rich society, an understanding of software, coding and the wider aspects of Computer Science is no longer a specialist body of knowledge required by key professionals.

“Software permeates every aspect of our lives from the games on our phones to the healthcare we receive. So, computer science really is an essential part of what it means to be digitally competent in the 21st century and, therefore, has relevance for all future careers and citizens and recognising that computer science is a huge part of the world we live in is an important step for us all,” she said.

“As our study has found, it is a subject that promotes creativity, enables student collaboration, and achieves many of the essential learning outcomes required in the 21st century. Therefore, it is a unique vehicle to achieve many of these educational goals regardless of whether a student decides to pursue a career in this area. For that reason, framing it as an essential skill for all, rather than being part of the STEM portfolio of subjects may prove more advantageous in the long run,” she continued.

Professor Oliver McGarr from the School of Education at UL said their study concludes that the introduction of the subject in 2018 has been successful, with a growing number of schools taking on the subject – 145 secondary schools, 20% nationally, now offer Computer Science.

“Students’ experiences of the subject are very positive in relation to the way it is taught and the opportunity for creative and collaborative work. However, negative and inaccurate stereotypes are still present, as well as a wider lack of understanding of what Computer Science entails and a lack of appreciation of its wide application in all aspects of society,” he added.

Lero’s Joyce Borges remarked that “this work is particularly important because, while there have been several studies that have explored the roll out of Leaving Cert Computer Science, this is the first which focused on students and their experiences of the subject in an in-depth manner”.