Irish Computer Science Leaving Certificate Curriculum Consultation Update

Last Tuesday I attended a consultation session for the Leaving Certificate Computer Science Curriculum. This is Ireland’s shot at putting CS on the pre-university curriculum, specifically the Irish Senior Cycle – which leads right up to where secondary school and university meet. I am particularly interested in this as I teach, research, and am pretty much obsessed with CS1 – the first programming course that CS majors take at university. I am also teaching this year on a new programme at my university, University College Dublin (with support from Microsoft), that is one of the first (if not the first) teacher training programmes specifically for this new curriculum.

The event was hosted by the National Council for Curriculum and Assessment, and was addressed by Irish Minister for Education and Skills, Richard Bruton. It was an engaging and lively day of discussion and it was really good to see so many different stakeholders in attendance. I was in one of I believe 6 (or more) focus groups, and we had university professors, industry leaders (including Apple and Microsoft), current (and former) school teachers, and a member of the curriculum development team in the room, (and I am missing a few people here).

There is another consultation event on September 16 at Maynooth University, hosted by the Computers in Education Society Ireland (CESI). The consultation officially closes on September 22, and a final draft of the curriculum is expected soon thereafter.

Irish computer science dropout rate falls

The number of students dropping out of Irish computer science courses before beginning their second year has fallen for the first time in several years.

This is welcome news, particularly as in recent years, Computer Science courses have had some of the worst progression rates of all courses. This year* their progression rate has risen from 80% to 84% for honours degree (level 8)** programmes. For university courses the figure is 88pc, compared with 80pc at institutes of technology.

The problem of high dropout rates in Computer Science courses is not limited to Ireland, and has been a big problem in many, if not most countries.

Overall, there has been a small decrease in drop-out rates, although more than 6,200 (nearly one in seven) first year students in 2013/14 did not continue into second year. Interestingly and encouragingly, students from farming backgrounds, and female students, are least likely to drop out before second year.

The source of these figures is a newly published report from the Higher Education Authority (HEA), A Study of Progression in Irish Higher Education, 2013/14 to 2014/15. Figures in the report show that 85% of first years in 2013/14 progressed to second year, up from 84% in the previous year.

HEA chief executive officer Dr Graham Love attributed the improved progression rates in computer science to additional funding for retention initiatives such as maths enabling courses, peer mentoring and tutorials.

*The report detailed here is for students who began their course in 2013/2014.

**For international readers, “honours degree, level 8” courses are ‘traditional’ degree courses, typically 4 year BSc courses. See here for more.

Computer Science to be offered in Irish secondary curriculum by 2019

According to RTE news, the Irish Minister for Education has said that Computer Science, including programming, will be a Leaving Certificate subject by 2019, paving the way for Irish students to have the option to study the subject at secondary school. However the nature of the curriculum has not been settled, nor is not known how many schools will offer the subject. The rules in Irish schools vary, but most require students to take seven subjects for the Leaving Certificate. Some students may take fewer, for example, those who are not taking Irish. Other students may choose to take more. There is no specific rule about how many subjects a student should take, however students must pass six subjects in the Leaving Certificate in order to be eligible for NFQ Level 8 (honours) undergraduate degrees, and the CAO uses a student’s best six subjects to determine CAO points (which determine eligibility to study at the undergraduate level). Every student must take English, mathematics and Irish, unless they have an exemption from Irish. Students will normally choose another four subjects [1].

The UK’s computing curriculum, as part of the UK National Curriculum, has been running since September 2014 for students in primary and secondary school. The road to this curriculum was long and winding, which Neil C. C. Brown and colleagues document in this ACM Transactions on Computing Education paper.  In the US, the CS4all initiative is helping organise efforts to bring computer science to primary and secondary schools, where the landscape is complicated due to primary and secondary schooling being overseen largely at the state level. According to Code.org, only 33 states allow students to count Computer Science courses toward their high school graduation requirements, leaving them to take classes, if they’re offered, as electives. However, Computer Science classes still aren’t even an option for high school students in many districts. See the last link for an interactive map that summarises the status of Computer Science efforts in each state. This week, as part of Computer Science Education Week, the White House announced efforts in two federal agencies to expand access to and quality of computer science education in US K-12 schools [2].

 

Open letter from 27 governors and business leaders push congress on CS education

In an open letter, 27 state governors and a who’s who of technology business leaders have urged congress to help provide CS education in K-12 schools, stating “We ask you to provide funding for every student in every school to have an opportunity to learn computer science”.

The list of signatories includes Bill and Melinda Gates, Eric Schmidt, Jeff Bezos, Mark Zuckerberg, Sheryl Sandberg, and Tim Cook.

The letter notes that three quarters of U.S. schools do not offer meaningful computer science courses, and states: “… what is increasingly a basic skill is only available to the lucky few, leaving most students behind, particularly students of color and girls. How is this acceptable?” The letter also cites 500,000 unfilled computing jobs, contrasting this with only 50,000 graduates per year.

This letter, combined with President Obama’s CS4All initiative and recent announcements from Microsoft and Oracle (committing $200 million) on efforts to computer science education have given congress more than ample pressure to effect meaningful change on a national level. However to-date many of these efforts represent only the beginnings (however substantial) of what is required. Other efforts, including this letter, so far only amount to (very welcome and convincing) calls for action, leaving big questions remaining:

  • How much will congress apportion and how?
  • How much change can industry along with local, or even statewide actions deliver without congress?
  • How will underrepresented groups benefit?
  • Will they benefit?

The letter and full list of signatories follows:

Dear Members of Congress and fellow Americans,

As business leaders, elected officials, and educators, we join forces to deliver a bipartisan message about opportunity and the American Dream. Technology is transforming society at an unprecedented rate. Whether it’s smartphones or social networks, self-driving cars or personalized medicine, nothing embodies the American Dream so much as the opportunity to change or even reinvent the world with technology. And participating in this world requires access to computer science in our schools. We ask you to provide funding for every student in every school to have an opportunity to learn computer science.

Support for this idea is sweeping our nation. Ninety percent of parents want their children to have access to computer science education at school, and teachers agree. They know that technology opens doors. A hundred thousand teachers have taken matters into their own hands and already begun teaching computer science. Over 100 school districts are rolling out courses, from New York to Chicago to Los Angeles, from Miami to Las Vegas. Twenty states have passed policies and are now looking to support professional training for new computer science teachers. Private donors have collectively committed tens of millions of dollars to solving this problem, including $48 million of new commitments announced today by many of the undersigned.

Despite this groundswell, three-quarters of U.S. schools do not offer meaningful computer science courses. At a time when every industry in every state is impacted by advances in computer technology, our schools should give all students the opportunity to understand how this technology works, to learn how to be creators, coders, and makers — not just consumers. Instead, what is increasingly a basic skill is only available to the lucky few, leaving most students behind, particularly students of color and girls.

How is this acceptable? America leads the world in technology. We invented the personal computer, the Internet, e-commerce, social networking, and the smartphone. This is our chance to position the next generation to participate in the new American Dream.

Not only does computer science provide every student foundational knowledge, it also leads to the highest-paying, fastest-growing jobs in the U.S. economy. There are currently over 500,000 open computing jobs, in every sector, from manufacturing to banking, from agriculture to healthcare, but only 50,000 computer science graduates a year. Whether a student aspires to be a software engineer, or if she just wants a well-rounded education in today’s changing world, access to computer science in school is an economic imperative for our nation to remain competitive. And with the growing threat of cyber warfare, this is even a critical matter of national security. Despite this growing need, targeted federal funding to carry out these efforts in classrooms is virtually non-existent. This bipartisan issue can be addressed without growing the federal budget.

We urge you to amplify and accelerate the local efforts in classrooms, unlock opportunity in every state, and give an answer to all the parents and teachers who believe that every student, in every school, should have a chance to learn computer science.

Business Leaders

  • Arne Sorenson, CEO, Marriott
  • Barry Diller, Chairman, IAC and Expedia
  • Bill and Melinda Gates
  • Bobby Kotick, CEO, Activision Blizzard
  • Brad Smith, President, Microsoft
  • Brian Chesky, CEO, Airbnb
  • Brian Cornell, Chairman and CEO, Target
  • Doug McMillon, CEO, Walmart
  • Daniel Schulman, CEO, Paypal. Chairman, Symantec
  • Dara Khosrowshahi, CEO, Expedia
  • Devin Wenig, CEO, eBay
  • Doug Parker, Chairman and CEO, American Airlines
  • Edward Breen, Chairman and CEO, DuPont
  • Eric Schmidt, Executive Chairman, Alphabet, Inc.
  • Ginni Rometty, Chairman and CEO, IBM
  • Grant Verstandig, CEO, Rally Health
  • Herb Allen, President, Allen & Company
  • Jack Dorsey, CEO, Twitter and Square
  • James Murdoch, CEO, 21st Century Fox
  • James P. Gorman, Chairman and CEO, Morgan Stanley
  • Jeff Bezos, Chairman and CEO, Amazon
  • Jessica Alba, CEO, The Honest Company
  • Joe Lonsdale, Partner, 8VC. Founder, Palantir
  • John Donahoe, Chairman, Paypal
  • Julie Sweet, Chief Executive, Accenture North America
  • Larry Ellison, Executive Chairman and Chief Technical Officer, Oracle
  • Larry Fink, Chairman and CEO, BlackRock
  • Lowell McAdam, Chairman and CEO, Verizon
  • Marc Benioff, Chairman and CEO, Salesforce
  • Mark Cuban, Owner, Dallas Mavericks, Magnolia Pictures, Landmark Theatres
  • Mark Zuckerberg, Chairman and CEO, Facebook
  • Rami Rahim, CEO, Juniper Networks
  • Randall Stephenson, Chairman and CEO, AT&T
  • Reid Hoffman, Chairman, LinkedIn
  • Rich Barton, Chairman, Zillow
  • Richard Anderson, CEO, Delta Airlines
  • Robert A. Iger, Chairman and CEO, The Walt Disney Company
  • Sam Altman, President, Y Combinator
  • Samuel Allen, Chairman and CEO, John Deere
  • Satya Nadella, CEO, Microsoft
  • Sheryl Sandberg, COO, Facebook
  • Terry J. Lundgren, Chairman and CEO, Macy’s, Inc
  • Tim Cook, CEO, Apple
  • Vishal Sikka, CEO, Infosys

Governors

  • Asa Hutchinson, Governor, Arkansas (R)
  • Brian Sandoval, Governor, Nevada (R)
  • C.L. “Butch” Otter, Governor, Idaho (R)
  • Charlie Baker, Governor, Massachusetts (R)
  • Dannell P. Malloy, Governor, Connecticut (D)
  • David Y. Ige, Governor, Hawaii (D)
  • Earl Ray Tomblin, Governor, West Virginia (D)
  • Edmund G. Brown, Jr., Governor, California (D)
  • Gina M. Raimondo, Governor, Rhode Island (D)
  • Jack Dalrymple, Governor, North Dakota (R)
  • Jack Markell, Governor, Delaware (D)
  • Jay Inslee, Governor, Washington (D)
  • John Hickenlooper, Governor, Colorado (D)
  • Kate Brown, Governor, Oregon (D)
  • Maggie Hassan, Governor, New Hampshire (D)
  • Mark Dayton, Governor, Minnesota (D)
  • Mary Fallin, Governor, Oklahoma (R)
  • Matt Bevin, Governor, Kentucky (R)
  • Matt Mead, Governor, Wyoming (R)
  • Mike Pence, Governor, Indiana (R)
  • Peter Shumlin, Governor, Vermont (D)
  • Phil Bryant, Governor, Mississippi (R)
  • Rick Snyder, Governor, Michigan (R)
  • Steve Bullock, Governor, Montana (D)
  • Susana Martinez, Governor, New Mexico (R)
  • Terry Branstad, Governor, Iowa (R)
  • Terry McAuliffe, Governor, Virginia (D)

K-12 Leaders

  • Antwan Wilson, Superintendent, Oakland
  • Bob Runcie, Superintendent, Broward County Public Schools
  • Carmen Fariña, Chancellor, NYC Department of Education
  • Forrest Claypool, CEO, Chicago Public Schools
  • Kimberly Hill, Superintendent, Charles County Public Schools
  • Michelle King, Superintendent, Los Angeles Unified School District
  • Pat Skorkowsky, Superintendent, Clark County School District
  • Richard Carranza, Superintendent, San Francisco Unified School District
  • Susan Enfield, Superintendent, Highline Public Schools
  • Tom Torlakson, State Superintendent, California

Education / Nonprofit

  • Bobby Schnabel, CEO, Association for Computing Machinery
  • Cornell Brooks, President and CEO, NAACP
  • Daniel A. Domenech, Executive Director, AASA, The School
  • Superintendents Association
  • David Coleman, CEO, College Board
  • Elisa Villanueva Beard, CEO, Teach For America
  • Gail Connelly, ED, National Association of Elementary School Principals
  • Hadi Partovi, CEO, Code.org
  • Lee Hood, MD, PhD, President, Institute for Systems Biology. Co-founder, Amgen
  • Linda D. Hallman, CEO, American Association of University Women
  • Lucy Sanders, CEO, National Center for Women and IT
  • Mark Nelson, Executive Director, CS Teachers Association
  • Matthew Randazzo, CEO, National Math & Science Initiative
  • Peggy Brookins, CEO, National Board for Professional Teaching Standards
  • Telle Whitney, CEO, Anita Borg Institute for Women and Technology
  • Thomas J. Gentzel, Executive Director, National School Boards Association