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Leaving Cert Computer Science gives students 21st-century life skills

Fri, 26 Jun 2020

The Covid-19 crisis has highlighted the importance of the new Leaving Certificate subject Computer Science, according to researchers at Lero, the Science Foundation Ireland Research Centre for Software and University of Limerick.

Computer Science was available to Leaving Certificate students in 40 schools (13 DEIS Schools) selected via open competition. The subject will be rolled out nationally for Leaving Certificate students commencing in September 2020, for examination in 2022.

Lero’s Clare McInerney, who is part of a team researching the implementation of the new Computer Science Programme at Leaving Certificate, said it is hard to imagine how we could continue to function as a society without the digital technologies we take for granted.

“Right now, digital technologies are playing so many important roles they are frequently overlooked. For example, while most people would agree that software such as Skype or Zoom are poor substitutes for face-to-face meetings, they nonetheless provide us with opportunities to meet and interact that otherwise would not be possible. Computer technology is also playing a critical role in helping us to undertake contact tracing and research the virus to find a vaccine,” she added.

Ms McInerney, who is Education and Public Engagement Manager in Lero, said the Computer Science course provides students with essential life skills and many opportunities. 

“Not only have they developed crucial 21st-century skills such as problem-solving, collaboration and critical thinking, as citizens equipped with knowledge of Computer Science, they are also more informed about how digital technologies impact their lives,” she said.

Fellow team member Dr Oliver McGarr, senior lecturer at the School of Education at the University of Limerick, said regardless of whether a student chooses a career in health, medicine, engineering, science or business, computing is playing an increasingly fundamental role.

“Digital technologies play such a central role in our day-to-day lives, knowledge of Computer Science should no longer be seen as a specialist body of knowledge for a select few, but instead an important area of knowledge for all. 

“Studying Computer Science in school means that students will be better informed about the subject at third level and this is therefore likely to improve retention in these courses. However, our research shows that studying Computer Science at Leaving Cert can equip young women and young men with skills that are relevant and transferable across so many third level courses, and better prepare them for a wide range of careers.”

Dr McGarr said that at the heart of this new Leaving Certificate subject is a focus on project-based learning where students work collaboratively to solve problems.

“It is this emphasis on active student learning and solving real-life problems that sets this subject apart. We have found that the students particularly enjoyed the collaborative and problem-solving focus, which made it stand out from other subjects. 

Over the past two years, research by the team at Lero and UL has tracked the experiences of teachers beginning to teach the subject and helped to inform the on-going roll-out of the subject in schools. 

“It is especially important to acknowledge the dedication of all those involved, particularly the Professional Development Service for Teachers (PDST) and the participating teachers. Along with teaching their traditional subjects over the past two years, these teachers have also taken on this new subject. Without their commitment and enthusiasm, it would not have been such as success,” added Dr McGarr.