Thursday, May 29, 2014

Computing Science Conference: Keynote

Live notes from Education Scotland's Computing Science Conference

Keynote: Gerry Docherty, CE smarter Grid Solutions

The IT industry in Scotland could be bigger and better: "There are no geographical barriers to being successful in the IT industry. ...Computing is the big industry for the 21st Century."

Skills Investment Plan
A number of major players in the IT industry as well as public bodies and universities are involved in drawing up the plan. Gerry sees Computing teachers as the most "important cohort" in developing pupils' interest and aptitude in IT. Salaries in the IT industry in Scotland are 60% above the median salary in Scotland. IT in Scotland is second only to the Whiskey industry in terms of export value. Few jobs are at the IT support end of things. Most of the jobs are at the high end, computational thinking side of things.

There was then a "Wha's like us?" Section where it was claimed (among other things) that hypertext was invented in Edinburgh. (Not convinced!) was pointed out that there is a real shortage of people qualified to fill the required jobs (need 10,400 in the next few years). There are barriers though. Image of IT people is still that of spotty, t-shirted, game playing teenager. Need to get message through to parents, teachers and pupils that The industry that will change the world, that will make new things, are the high end IT people. The high flyers, the five A Higher pupils, need to see the IT industry as the place to go. That high end IT skills are useful, and even necessary, for people going I to other professions (e.g. Doctors, lawyers, finance, physicists...).

Various strategies.
One is a quick fix - a one year intensive course, industry led, sitting between college and university, to give people IT qualifications that will let them walk into a job).
Two: broaden pipeline. Not just more pupils in Computing courses but getting more Computing teachers in schools too.
Three: make sure courses reflect the new high end IT skills needed by industry (not so much network and technical support; more ”proper programming”).
Four: national campaign to raise profile of and educate public in what current IT industry is really like.

Tough challenges; not least because of rapid change in the sector.

We need to do everything we can to make pupils, especially girls, to see IT as a valuable and interesting place to be.

Q & A
Q: What kind of jobs are out there that are of interest to girls.
A: there are no jobs that are gender specific! Programming, system design, project management... The image is the problem. At the moment there is an uptake in girls taking physics perhaps because of the Brian Cox effect. has had similar effect in the USA for computing. In Scotland, majority of students studying law are now female thanks to a couple of TV programs featuring female lawyers.

Q: What form will the campaign take?
A: Early stages of discussion with BBC Scotland. Looking at people that could front campaign. Possible fly on the wall type documentary centred on IT company.

Q: Pool of industry people to come into school?
A: Hope to do this but there are many barriers that make this difficult. They are trying to set up a co-ordinated programme to do this. Could get people doing short videos, like TED talks! that we can show to children and parents. Can source this on YouTube with's stuff and Bring It On NI
Q: Poor image of Computing in local authorities. How do we tackle this?
A: Skills Investment people trying to get Computing positioned as a science along with Physics, Chemistry and Biology. Trying to get that message across to head teachers and government ministers.
Post Session
Check out report from Wood Commission

Location:Grosvenor Street,Edinburgh,United Kingdom


Kenneth... said...

I'm always cynical when I hear of others wanting to increase the number of people employed in the IT sector, it's usually associated with increasing staff and reducing salaries.

Peter Donaldson said...

It's important but it would be wrong just to make the argument based on the economic case alone. My major concern is that computation is a new medium of expression that's not well understood by a large proportion of the population. The last time we had a situation where a few people understood a powerful medium of expression, the written word, and the rest of the population didn't was the dark ages. If you think I'm being melodramatic you only have to look at the revelations by Edward Snowden to see what security agencies are now capable of through harnessing the power of computation. The fact that so few of us understand the principles they're exploiting or have an awareness of the alternatives means they aren't really being held to account.

Part of a healthy democratic society is having some understanding of the forces that shape society whether they're social, scientific or technological. An appliance orientated view of computers, that's what we often mean when we refer to technology, is both extremely limiting and gives us a misplaced sense of security that leaves us vulnerable. These devices are fundamentally pliable which means they can be shaped and reprogrammed in ways their original creators never imagined or intended.

That's the real reason why we should teach computing science in secondary schools. The range of employment opportunities is an extra added bonus.