We need to switch our kids onto the opportunities of the digital world, says Scotland’s leading cryptographer

Te danger of creating a nation of ‘tech users’


In the week that marks the 38th birthday of the IBM PC, we are possibly at our lowest point in trying to engage our next genera- tion into computer science. In Computer Science at school

in Scotland, the Higher subject is now the 19th most popular subject, and saw the largest drop in pupils taking it of any subject (a fall of 21%). Tis is a sad reflection on

and flexible for a wider range of people to become teachers. We promote STEM learning

and training at all levels both in education and in the workplace. Te latest data from 2017-18 show that almost 15,000 school leavers left with at least one pass in a STEM subject at SCQF level 6 (Higher) or above. A further 14,000 students emerged from our colleges having completed relevant STEM courses and 7,300 university students graduated with the relevant STEM qualifica- tions for work in digital fields. In the same year, there were around 2,000 starts in digital related ap- prenticeship frameworks. Taken as a whole, these actions

and expectations will help to ensure that all learners in Scotland experience an education en- riched by digital technology and one that equips them with the skills needed for our constantly changing society and workplaces, irrespective of the career path they choose.l

Kate Forbes MSP is Minister for Public Finance and Digital Economy

our drive towards a knowledge economy in Scotland, and might be a sign that we are creating a nation of tech users, and who have little understanding of what lies underneath. For some reason we switch so

many kids off computer science and programming at such as early age, and often we give them a dull syllabus, which is out-of-date by the time that we deliver it. Te lack of standardisation and sharing of coding in Scotland has not helped with engagement, especially as there is no common platform for sharing code across schools. We even came up with our

own pseudo code language – and which is not used in other parts of the world and lacks resources to support it. Te core area that needs to be addressed is gener- ally whether computer science becomes a compulsory subject, and where no one can drop it. If so, we need a significant

investment in teachers for the subject, including allowing those in industry to be seconded to schools. In the future, someone in medicine or law will be as likely to code in Python as anyone else. We also make sure that we are teaching skills and not focusing on academic study.

Programming often involves

the skills of solving problems and with psychomotor skills, and increasing it is the hands-on and problem-solving skills that indus- try needs. Most companies now use GitHub for their code, and it provides a way to share it. Tey also use Cloud-based systems to provide their environments.

For some reason, our schools still use desktop computers where the opportunity to run things at home is minimal. Unfortunately, there are few ways for industry and parents to get involved in helping coding, as each school can go their own way with the coding. Te computer science syllabus in Scotland has missed out on the areas where it could appraise pupils of the opportuni- ties and threats that they may face, and to redress many of the problems we have caused in our current version of the Internet. Te rise of data science,

cybersecurity, machine learn- ing, cryptocurrencies and many other areas are just not covered in a way that would create a generation who understood how to build better digital societies.

While NPAs (National Progres- sion Awards) are being developed to cover some of these areas, it leaves the computer science subject, generally, under threat and possibly further reduces the potential audience for those we want to get into coding. We need to switch our kids

onto the opportunities within an increasingly digitally-focused world. Coding is fun, and will provide the jobs of the future. Personally, I would say that we want every child to be able to code with a language like Python, understand some Linux commands, and know how a computer works. Tis will create a digitally-focused workforce, and those who want to do cyberse- curity, data science and software engineering can go off and continue their studies. Imagine if we said that PE at school was only for those who wanted to become a sports scientist? l

Prof. William (Bill) Buchanan, OBE, PhD, FBCS, PFHEA, CEng, BSc (Hons), Cisco Regional Instructor, Professor of Computing, Edinburgh Napier University

AUTUMN 2019 | 9

Prof. Bill Buchanan

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