Momentum Behind Push To Have Coding Taught In Primary Schools

As any parent of small children will tell you, one of the biggest battles fought in homes across the country is over ‘screen time’. My kids seem to prefer screen time to anything else, and see computers, tablets and smart phones as being integral to their lives and to their futures.

Even more fundamental than that, in these days of economic gloom and doom, there are around 2,000 unfilled posts in the digital sector in Northern Ireland alone. That’s 2,000 jobs on about £30,000 each. Imagine the impact on our economy if we were able to fill these jobs?

So why aren’t they filled? Because the tech companies simply can’t get enough programmers with the requisite skills.

Why don’t they exist? That’s because despite real gains in the further and higher education sector’s ability to train them, we are still way behind the curve. Nowhere is this clearer than in how we teach coding, or computer programming in schools.

Last year, while working with Momentum, the voice of the digital sector, I was lead author on the Northern Ireland Digital Action plan, agreed by five government departments and with the buy in of the sector itself. There were a range of proposals in the strategy which aims to help create 20,000 jobs in the next decade.

But its headline highlighted the need for the introduction of the teaching of coding across all schools from the age of eight and right through post primary level.

Right now the digital sector is creating jobs on an unprecedented scale in Northern Ireland, and with the introduction of lower corporation tax on the horizon, that looks set to continue. However, the real game changer would come about if we followed through on coding in schools.

There is significant work going on through DEL, at the universities, and through the introduction of the new A-level in software system development. There’s also a new GCSE on the way.

But it’s not enough. A recent report on maximising employment opportunities from the gaming sector, which was recognised as a key influence on the English Department of Educations’ decision to introduce computer science on to the National curriculum states: “A growing number of voices including the British Computer Society, Computing at School, Institute of Physics and the Royal Academy of Engineering argue that ICT, as it is currently taught, fails to prepare young people for those demanding programming-intensive courses from which high-tech industries recruit. We believe there is an overwhelming industrial case for computer science to be considered as an individual subject providing essential STEM knowledge alongside maths and physics. All young people should have an opportunity to pursue computer science up to Key Stage 4.”

Recently the Estonian government pledged to introduce coding from early in primary school. Momentum supports this call and believes that
children in Northern Ireland, like children in Estonia (which has a similar sized population), should have access to coding from the age of eight. If we do that we change the capabilities of the workforce in significant way. If we change the workforce – we change the future of the country.

We need to change the conversation from ‘will we do this?’ to ‘how do we do this?’ Estonia has a population of 1.3 million people, an unsettled political history and no real natural resources. Remind you of anywhere?

If Estonia can do it, why can’t we?

*Barry Turley ( is managing director of Turley PR and Public Affairs