New Computer Science subject

Today (Friday 22nd September) is the final day of the public consultation period on the Leaving Certificate Computer Science specification. This new subject will be introduced to Irish classrooms in September 2018.

It is evident from the draft specification that the development group have tried to be truly creative in their approach. They are to be applauded for this, as is the NCCA for facilitating and supporting the process.

The pedagogical model is innovative, based around inquiry-based learning and engendering a collaborative approach to problem solving. In essence, students will work in teams to solve problems. Computer science skills, such as coding, will be developed and refined progressively throughout the programme. In tandem with this, students will be introduced to a project management methodology and develop problem solving skills, skills that will be refined through engagement with a set number of projects over the duration of the 2 year course.

There was some debate about what this new subject would be called, and while the NCCA settled on “Computer Science”, it is evident that they are also very conscious of the need to appeal to the widest possible audience of students. Consequently the course aims to build both an understanding of core computer science concepts while also engendering higher-order skills. These are the key skills that are (or should be?) central to teaching and learning across the senior cycle curriculum, namely (i) information processing (ii) being personally effective (ii) communicating (iv) critical and creative thinking and (v) working with others.

If the Computer Science course is developed, and taught, in line with these ideas then it has the potential to be a really innovative curriculum implementation, perhaps the most novel ever seen at senior cycle in Ireland.

There are significant challenges, not least the need to ensure that assessment supports, rather than hinders, this creative approach. The key constraints are set by the State Exams Commission (SEC), and, while I imagine the development group, might well have liked to be more innovative, the current system determines that a major proportion of a student’s LC grade is determined by the mark achieved in a final examination. At the same time there are novel assessment proposals within this subject specification, not least the fact that the terminal exam will be computer-based, the first time we will see this happening in the state examination system.

The proposed curriculum has clearly been influenced by an innovative pedagogy that some (familiar faces at CESI’s Maynooth symposium!) have been championing for years.  There is a belief that Ireland has an advantage in being a late adopter of an upper secondary Computer Science subject in that there is an opportunity to learn from the experiences (and problems) experienced elsewhere.

The new Computer Science subject has the potential to lead the way for real change in how the Leaving Certificate is taught and assessed in Ireland. It really is an exciting opportunity. Let’s hope that it gets the support and the resources that it deserves.


The photograph shows a group of those who were present at the symposium in Maynooth University to discuss the new subject specification. All are linked with the Master’s degree in Technology and Learning (formerly IT in Education), a multidisciplinary course offered by the School of Education and the School of Computer Science at Trinity College Dublin. The author, who lectured on the course during its inaugural year in 1999, is front right.

The author wishes to acknowledges the support of Peter Hamilton of Edtech Ventures who is a strong advocate for this new Computer Science subject.

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