By  Cornelia Connolly (B.Eng., M.Eng., Ph.D.). Cornelia Connolly is a lecturer in the field of Computing and Mathematics. She has a B.Eng. (Hons) in Computer Engineering and M.Eng. through research and was awarded a Ph.D. in education from the University of Limerick. 

Having worked with Accenture, in management and IT consultancy, she returned to academia to pursue her research interests in education, technology, student retention and numerical competency. She regularly publishes journal articles in the areas of learning dynamics and pedagogical enhancement in education.

An Essential 21st Century Skill, Computer Science. What does Mammy and Daddy need to know?

With the impending introduction of Computer Science at Leaving Certificate level, the importance of understanding the concepts underpinning Computer Science is ever more vital.

Computer Science is the discipline that makes the use of computers possible and has driven innovation in every industry and field of study. From the abacus to today’s smartphones, Ada Lovelace’s first computer program in the 1840s to the innovative powerful ideas Seymour Papert uncovered – computing has dramatically shifted our learning. Ways of thinking, problem solving and creating in Computer Science have become invaluable parts of life and are important beyond ensuring that we have enough skilled workers [1]. The broad view of computer science emphasises the range of application which computing has in other fields. Computer Science as a discipline incorporates more than just coding, it involves physical systems and networks, the collection, storage and analysis of data and the impact of computing on society!

At times Computer Science is often confused with the everyday use of computers, such as learning how to see the internet and create digital presentations. Computer literacy, education technology, digital citizenship and information technology are all aspects of computing and distinguished from Computer Science because they are focused on using computer technologies rather than understanding why they work and how to create those technologies.

Knowing why and how computers work (i.e. computer science) provides the basis for a deep understanding of computer use and the relevant rights, responsibilities and applications. Computer Science is the foundation for computing. Computer Science evokes authentic, powerful ideas that can be used to solve real-world problem and connect understanding across multiple disciplines. Computational thinking practices such as abstraction, modelling and decomposition intersect with Computer Science concepts such as algorithms, automation and data visualisation.

Learning the fundamentals of coding or programming encourages children to learn new skills, encourages active creators and enables pattern recognition, counting and comparisons. However, there may be a prevailing assumption that learners will be comfortable with computer science and programming because of their experience with computers, due to the key role played by technology in homes, schools and the prevalence of computer video games in society. Playing computer games, which are self-selected, motivating and fun, does little to prepare an individual for the type of learning involved in Computer Science. Neither does video gaming or home PC use develop many of the skills required when learning computer programming.

Computer Science is a discipline that serves society, its people and their needs in a multitude of ways. As such equity, inclusion and diversity are critical factors in all aspects of Computer Science. When setting up a software development team, for example, it is essential to understand the benefits of inclusion and diversity and motivate students to actively seek out collaborators with different perspectives and backgrounds. While the lack of computer devices and internet may be another challenge in equity and access and opportunity for all, Computer Science can be ‘unplugged’ and many concepts may be taught through physical kinaesthetic experiences.

The purpose of equity in Computer Science is not to prepare all students to major in Computer Science and to go on to careers in software engineering or technology. Instead it is about ensuring that all students have the foundational knowledge that will allow them to productively participate in today’s world and make informed decisions.1

Computer Science is more than a discipline for a few, but rather it is an essential 21st century literacy for all students.

[1] K-12 CS Framework,


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