"NI Software Skills - Reality Check Time"




NISP Connect view of the Blockers to NI Worldwide domination FWIW


There is a bottleneck in Schools. My figures are out-of-date but the year the government announced the reintroduction of computer science in schools, only 2 teachers, out of 2000 graduating that year, had a CS degree background.


I was part of the Tiger Teams to put that report together and all in all, it was a lot of bold strategy that has thus far seen no commitment to action other than in the 'risk capital department.

I’d agree with @georgemoore that the bottleneck is in schools, but the lag time for training of not only a new set of teachers, but to work out how to attract cs grads into teaching while everyone else is clamoring for them is going to be very long.

Personally I think everyone should chuck a bit of scratch at places like Farset, W5, Instil, and FabLab to put together a ‘crash course in teaching tech’. Farset and Digital Circle and W5 took part in a pilot programme last year which, due to politics and interest levels, turned from a teacher-focused angle into a schools-outreach angle. I’ll maybe look at it again when I get back…


Momentum have sat on the skills issue for two decades. The DC content strategy document which was agreed by all the departments identified a critical need in 2008 which despite all efforts was completely ignored and in some cases willfully obstructed.

In the indecision about what to teach (Java, C, C#, Modula 2), they ended up teaching no-one. And the drop out rate for software /CS courses in universities would curl your toes.

The school principal on BBC GMUthis morning proved the point. Kids have awesome IT skills so he didn’t understand why there was a shortage.

Because you’re a complete balloon, headmaster.


I think a “Crash course in teaching tech” as Bolster suggests is a great idea. How can we help make it happen? I am a mentor at Coleraine Coder Dojo and teacher friends have already asked me for training to teach kids Scratch etc. It’s can’t be that hard to set up, surely?


I have this issue with a lot of people (and was recently quoted out of context on it by the Beeb so I’m expecting that to bite me in the ass soon); Kids these days have exactly the same environmental technical capabilities as ‘we’ did with our respective technologies. Think VCR timers, BBC Micros, etc. Kids being great users of technology is not a new thing, however kids engaging with the creation and manipulation of technology is a different kettle of fish entirely.

@Liza I’d love to do it when I get back after the summer, but as always, I’d rather spend my time educating rather than form filling for ‘directed’ grants that water down the driving message by adding in additional impact requirements… (No, I am not “cross-community”, I just don’t care what ‘community’ they’re from)


We ran a teaching teachers to teach computing short course at Ulster, covering the usual technologies. While Scratch is popular, App Inventor really struct a chord.

Still, scratching the surface of the problem.


The ‘engaging/manipulating’ with rather than ‘using’ thing is the key. This guy really gets it.



I’m not talking about “here’s the tools” @georgemoore, I’m talking about “Heres an 8 week programme that gives you a working knowledge of software engineering theory and applications across the curriculum”, because young people ask the best questions, and responding to that needs a bit more background than knowing what tools are available.

It’s not an easy problem, but one would hypothetically imagine UU/QUB running a focused conversion course aimed at educators, an MSc in Software Engineering or something, to plug the immediate gap.


I had a parent at Make It Digital ask me why there needs to be a ‘Computer Science’ GCSE/A Level in school (“isn’t it over-complicating things when there’s already ICT?”)

My explanation was that they teach completely different skills, and is important for the same reason we teach Home Economics - ie. we should be teaching kids how how to make food, not just eat it.

I think there’s a skills gap there too if you look at most student houses :wink:


And not just software.

I’ve failed to find a way to learn about electronics that isn’t a book. Without signing up to a HND in Electrnocs.

But it’s the same issue. Supply-based provision as opposed to demand-based. A gazillion people want to be lawyers so we train loads of lawyers. Rather than the industry and the universities agreeing on something like “we need 5 lawyers and 10 teachers for every 1000 ‘STEM’ grads so let’s have spaces in the university based on that”.

Remembering that any grad can later become a teacher with a PGCE.


I think the problem is making teaching sound appealing enough.
Then narrowing that pool of interested and aware people down to those that actually make good teachers is even harder… There are a lot of teachers out there that are not very inspiring, that certainly won’t help any technical subject!


Problem is, Anton, we have too many teachers as it stands. And still not enough software engineers or any other kind of engineer.


@cimota that’s why I was so disappointed that I couldn’t drive the W5 Pilot more, esp after Mary’s departure; a ground floor programme educating teachers who are already passionate about teaching but just aren’t ‘modern-tech-saavy’ is, I believe, the way to go to bridge the generational gap.

Keep engineers engineering, keep teachers teaching, but get the engineers to teach engineering to the teachers. Gives skills both ways, hypothetically could up employment if 20% of time was given to teaching requiring 20% larger workforce.(naive, I know) , as well as potentially solving the ‘no techie teachers’ problem when people want to take career breaks.


There should be some way into it though, even if it is a commercial venture. Teachers have a “Continuous Personal Development” requirement that they need to satisfy as part of their role. It may be possible to try to package something that could fulfil that criteria


Without rebooting education, I see no way to do it. And there just isn’t the will for change. The opportunity cost for this is reaching into the billions -when you consider a salary of 40k, it’s only 2,500 workers that add a billion to GDP. Allstate could probably hire that amount by themselves - Bro McFerran has said his hiring is limited only by the numbers of people out there (who will work for his lower side of the scale salaries).

Obviously there is no such thing as an engineer, there are good engineers, excellent engineers, bad engineers, interested engineers and a hep more iterations. There is room in the market for those who see work as something you do to live snd those who see life as an opportunity to build and create. But there is room for everyone (and a salary to match).

I wish we had an ounce of the spirit of other regions. Honestly I’m sick of Best, the Troubles and the Titanic.


Cimota, that was so well put, The Best, the Troubles and the Titanic… haha. So the problem is, Northern Ireland is not producing enough software engineers etc. I wonder if the “top down” approach where we push hard for this in schools, with the arduous task of re-training teachers. is the way forward. I get much more excited to think that this could grow from the “bottom up” where like minded kids get together in clubs and learn this stuff for themselves. Isn’t that exactly what projects like Coder Dojo and Farcet Labs is doing? Will that not be enough to push the numbers up? How long have these Coder clubs been up and running and have they resulted in more kids choosing computer science?


@Liza - it’s nowhere near quick enough. I have helped get 14 dojos up and running and the numbers don’t even scratch the surface of what we need. Plus, it’s very freeform so a lot of kids just play Minecraft instead.

This needs serious attention from serious people. Know any?


FWIW, I know that boards like SELB have been putting money into retraining teachers to deliver more eLearning and programming content. Although the reason I know that is because one friend from back home was dropped in deep with a condensed C# course, with no prior background in STEM or programming, so she contacted me for help. That is apparently the pattern.
So not that different from when I was at school - the Maths teachers taking responsibility for computing, even though their material was often several years out of date :smile: