'Kids use PCs at home yet write by hand at school. It's antediluvian'

Tue, Nov 29, 2011, 00:00

TO BE HONEST:A parent writes My son is in fifth year, and I am amazed and disappointed by how little time he spends with computers in school. At home he uses the computer all the time – mostly for gaming, admittedly – but when he gets to school there is so little to develop his skills in this area. It’s so absurd when you consider what most people’s working lives are like nowadays: everything is based around a computer. Everything we write is typed into one program or another.

That is also the experience of many children at home. Yet they go to school and spend hours writing by hand: it’s antediluvian and no preparation for anything, as far as I’m concerned. My son comes home to do homework, and again he’s writing essays in longhand – to what end? Once they are literate they should be on keyboards. Otherwise they’re preparing for life in the early 20th century instead of the 21st.

But that’s just the beginning of the anomaly. My son – like a lot of others, I bet – is very handy with gaming technology. He should be learning some kind of basic programming skills. Surely computer programming language is at least as important as Irish.

All the jobs nowadays are in IT. I keep hearing recruiters on the radio talking about vacancies in software development and other technology areas. In the middle of the worst recession in living memory this is one of the few areas where people can get jobs. Yet are we preparing our kids for these jobs? Not even close. We are preparing them for the jobs market we entered in the 1980s. How will that get us out of the hole we’re in?

I hear that some schools have brought in laptops for children instead of books. Given the cost of schoolbooks for postprimary students – about €200 a year in most cases – surely a laptop would be a cost-effective alternative in every school.

Without decent technology education in schools, the smart-economy conversation is all guff. Not everyone will work in software design when they finish school, but everyone will use computers. Can we say the same for some of the other subjects that our kids spend so much time on?

I really believe that if we took computing in school seriously it would not only benefit those kids with an aptitude who go on to work in IT and software design; it would also put us in serious contention to compete in global markets. If all our kids came out of school with a handle on computers – how to use them, how to innovate with them, and how to contribute to the technology sector in Ireland from a variety of directions – it would pay big dividends more quickly than we think.

This column is designed to give a voice to those within the education system who wish to speak out anonymously. Contributions are welcome. E-mail sflynn@irishtimes.com