February 2009 Archives

As an irish secondary school student of the 1980s. I was lucky enough to attend a school that had a room full of Apple IIe computers.We used these machines to learn Apple basic which allowed us to plot graphs etc,

There were also numerous math and educational software, but the basic programming language captured my attention. I remember at the end of 1st year proudly demonstrating to my class mates a map of Ireland that a number of us had painstakingly plotted on the Apple IIe. This simple computer with its basic/maths/science software inspired a generation of 1980s recession kids to learn programming and pursue it at third level.

What followed in its foot steps was a retrograde step whose repercussions are still being felt in irish education. The PC and Microsoft windows changed the computing landscape in secondary schools, suddenly we went from teaching computer science to teaching computer literacy i.e. word processing etc.

Irish secondary schools have been reluctant ever since to move away from this model and it has only in recent years with the introduction of ICT coordinators are we seeing a move back to teaching "computational thinking" So the dept education needs to go back to the 1980s and rediscover computer science and computational thinking, this means placing ICT and computational thinking on the junior and senior cycle.

The equipment is in place but the subject is still waiting in the wings.

The Third Level Computing supports discussion and co-operation between organisations interested in computing education, including the third level colleges, industry bodies, Government agencies, and companies. It was set up by the National Software Directorate and is supported by the Department of Enterprise.


  1. As other parts of the Irish economy suffer, the software sector continues to prosper. Demand for graduates in computing and related disciplines has kept growing and is greater than the supply. So far the shortfall has been made up by computing graduates from other countries, with over 50% of new hires in software companies coming from abroad. Longer term we will need to provide our own, as world-wide demand increases for graduates able to design the systems of tomorrow.


  1. The shortfall is not just in computing graduates. If people generally are to have any understanding of the systems they use, any appreciation of new possibilities, they will need some grasp of computational thinking. Without this, they will at best be superficial users, unable to understand the associated costs and dangers, or appreciate the possibilities. We need to add 'computational thinking' to 'reading, writing and arithmetic' as another pillar of a practical education. By failing to do so we neglect the educational implications of a world where almost every aspect of life will involve computation based systems.


  1. It's not just Ireland that faces these challenges. President Obama has been warned of the failure at second level to distinguish between 'information technology literacy' and 'computer science', and urged to "Consider computer science as one of the core courses students need to develop critical 21st Century skills". (/www.acm.org/public-policy/ACM_CS_ED_Transition_Final.pdf). At third level in the UK, Prof. Muffy Calder has pointed out that "Computational thinking, a way of solving problems, designing systems and understanding human behaviour, drawing on concepts of computer science, is having a wide impact across all disciplines." (www.ukcrc.org.uk/rae-2009.pdf). The growing appreciation of these issues abroad makes it all the more important that we address them effectively here.


  1. In doing so, one strength is the co-operation that already exists between the third level sector and industry and the significance attached to this by the industry. "It's vital that we support the connection between the world of education and the world of business to ensure we continue to bring new ideas, new computer science students  and expertise that can help drive innovation and entrepreneurship. Our support for the Third Level Computing Forum and its activities is recognition of the importance of that link." (Mr. Liam Cronin, Microsoft Ireland).


  1. In Ireland, third level computing education is available in 7 Universities, 14 Institutes of Technology, in Tipperary Institute, and in a number of private colleges. Four year honours degree courses (National Framework of Qualifications Level 8) are provided by most of these, with two and three year courses at Level 6 and Level 7 available, mostly in the Institutes of Technology. All the universities and most of the institutes are involved in postgraduate studies and research in computing.

  1. Numbers studying computing have not recovered from the drop of over 70% in applications for computing degrees in the 2001-2003 period, following the 'dot.com' collapse, though there have been some increases in recent years. A similar situation exists in other countries.


  1. The slowness of the recovery in the numbers reflects various underlying problems.

    1. Confidence lost in the 'dot-com collapse' of 2001-2003 has not been regained. "There are no jobs in computing"! The strong employment opportunities are not understood.

    2. Computing does not have a clear identity in the community. There is little understanding of what it involves, and a tendency to confuse it with Electronics, Mathematics, or computer manufacturing.

    3. The professional career opportunities and general educational value of computing qualifications are not appreciated. There is a fear that such qualifications provide only limited career options.

    4. The image of the computing graduate is of the 'nerd' rather than the 'professional'.

    5. It is seen as a predominantly male area of interest.

    6. Ireland is one of the few Western European countries in which there is no study of computing, as distinct from use of computers, at second level.


  1. The resulting difficulties for the colleges include

    1. Empty places on virtually all full-time computing courses.

    2. Very low numbers of women on most computing courses.

    3. A decline in the Leaving Certificate grades of computing students.

    4. High failure and drop out rates, particularly in first year, where most students encounter programming for the first time. Students are ill prepared to study computing at third level.

    5. Difficulty in recruiting Irish graduates to do research.


  1. As a result, the numbers graduating in Ireland fall well short of industry's needs and of those of research.

    1. The Expert Skills Group predicts a shortfall of 2000-3000 computing graduates per annum in the coming years. (ICT Report 2008)

    2. More than 50% of graduate hires in software companies in the Dublin area are from outside Ireland.

    3. More than 50% of postgraduate research positions in the colleges are filled by graduates from outside Ireland.


  1. Other countries also have computing graduate shortages

    1. The USA employment in Information Technology grew by 8.7% in 2007

    2. Western Europe economies generally have a significant shortfall

    3. India and China have significant shortfalls


  1. This shortage of computing graduates has important economic consequences

    1. It hampers development of the 'knowledge economy'

    2. It hinders effective use of computing in improving competitiveness.

    3. It limits innovative use of computing in new products and services

    4. It limits the development of the software sector, an industry ideal in many respects for an economy such as Ireland.

    5. It makes Ireland reliant on an uncertain supply of graduates from other countries, both for industry and for research.


  1. Continuing attempts are being made to address the issues

    1. All the colleges have invested in activities to promote computing, including

      1. School visits

      2. Special courses for second level students

      3. Promotional materials, printed, DVD, and WWW based

      4. Open days

      5. Appointment of a marketing officer for computing

      6. Articles and interviews in the media.

    2. Virtually all colleges have developed new courses aimed at capturing the interest of students in areas such as computer games, forensic computing, business computing, multimedia and business computing

    3. All the colleges have taken steps to address the problems of failure and drop-out, in particular by providing additional tutor support. Funding has been made available by the HEA to cover the associated costs.

    4. The state agencies, in particular the Higher Education Authority and Enterprise Ireland, and professional bodies and industry bodies, including Engineers Ireland and ICT Ireland, have co-operated in funding various initiatives and campaigns aimed at increasing take up of places in computing courses.


Although there has been no shortage of effort, innovation and financial support, recovery in the numbers remains slow, though there has been some progress. However, without these efforts, it seems likely that the situation would have deteriorated further.


  1. It is felt that the existing efforts should be continued.


  1. In addition, the following steps are suggested to help address the underlying issues

    1. That the industry seek the co-operation of the media in clarifying the job situation and the career prospects of computing graduates, and in overcoming the 'nerd' image. The colleges can help, but their views are at second hand and may be seen as tainted by vested interest.

    2. That steps are taken to provide a better understanding of what computing and computational thinking are about, and to distinguish them clearly from hardware technologies, mathematics, and computer manufacture. At present it is as though the civil engineering involved in a hospital were confused with the medical procedures carried out inside it.

    3. That the importance of computational thinking as a component in basic education be recognised.

    4. That the broad educational value of the study of computing be highlighted, to help reduce fears of limited career options. A computing based degree can be as broadly educational as a degree in business or economics or a modern language. Few disciplines touch on such a wide range of topics.

    5. That further efforts be made to attract women to study the subject. At present they have surrendered it to the men. Many seem to be unaware of the interest, flexibility, and prospects that a career in computing can offer. They seem unaware of the potential of computing to help people's lives.

    6. That all Teacher Training, whether at Primary or Second level, involve the study of Computing, to cover at least basic Computational Thinking, Algorithms, Computer Programming, and Computer Architecture. At present it is infeasible to introduce computing in the second level curriculum due to unavailability of teachers, but this should not be allowed continue indefinitely. Teachers should be given the opportunity to become aware of the subject, and perhaps interested in it.

    7. That the colleges identify ways in which they might interact more closely with local schools to help build up interest in computing among teachers and pupils.


Darwin inspired microprocessor chips

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Mu PhD Doctorate Thesis utilised Darwinian evolution modelling to design cost and effective and low power microprocessor chips. The model was an OO model of a Network Processor.

We owe a lot to Charles Darwin and his origin of the species theory. Evolutionary algorithms are now helping to design and refine existing models across a large variety of domains

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