Northern Ireland

Software Development A-Level: Northern Ireland teachers and pupils get on board IT revolution

Justin Edwards
Image caption CCEA Chief Executive Justin Edwards says the new A-Level was developed with the help of the IT industry

It is a common complaint from Northern Ireland business leaders that too few young people in the region have adequate technology skills.

There is hope that a new A-Level from the Council for the Curriculum, Examinations and Assessment (CCEA) may help address the problem, although the take-up is still small.

The pioneering 31 pupils who began an A-Level in Software Systems Development in September 2013 will get their results next month.

A further 138 pupils in 17 schools began to study the course in September.

CCEA Chief Executive Justin Edwards says that the new A-Level contains modules in computer programming and was developed with the help of the IT industry.

"They were identifying a need for software programmers and engineers to come through," he said.

Image caption Tutor Clair Stevenson says there is no reason why more women should not work in the IT industry

"We think it's really important because of the job opportunities that are currently growing in Northern Ireland, and the A-Level provides a great platform to build programming skills."

The initial numbers of pupils taking the A-Level are low, but demand is forecast to grow.

With that in mind, a number of teachers are spending a week in Belfast Metroplitan College's Titanic Campus, improving their computer coding skills so that they can offer the A-Level to their pupils.

Judith Knox is one of them, and she says demand from pupils for IT skills is huge.

"The children are really keen, they want coding clubs at lunchtime," she said.

"It's an area they are very keen in learning about."

Fellow teacher Laura McClean agrees.

She is from the Northern Regional College and teaches in a number of schools.

"Computing is going crazy, everybody wants it," she said.

"It's everywhere in the world, so it's only right that we get our students to the best that they can be."

All of the teachers attending the week-long course are women, and just along the corridor about 50 'Belfast IT girls' are at a digital skills camp run by Belfast Met.

The girls, aged 15-18, are spending a week of their summer holiday coding, and designing apps and websites.

They are unusual in that the IT industry is still a male-dominated one.

A major UK study by e-skills UK, published in 2014, found that fewer than one in six (16%) of the 1,129,000 people working as IT specialists in the UK were women.

Tutor Clair Stevenson says there is no reason why more women should not work in the IT industry.

"Perhaps the perception is that the term IT is dull or boring, which it is far from," she said.

"It's vast, and the disciplines required are extensive, and there's something for everyone in the IT industry.

"We really need women in the industry here in Belfast and we need them now."

Rachel Keenan, 15, wants to be a web designer, and was using the summer camp to learn new skills.

"There are not a lot of girls in IT and we want more," she said.

Web design

Caitlyn Leckey, 17, is one of the few girls in her A-Level class.

"I want to work in computer software or web design, something along those lines," she added.

"IT is seen as a male-orientated industry, there are only four girls in my class and a lot more boys.

Image caption Farah Pourgholi says she uses a lot of social media

"It's just not seen as a girly thing to do."

Farah Pourgholi, 17, meanwhile, has her sights set on big things.

"I use a lot of social media, and, just think, I could be known like Mark Zuckerberg of Facebook," she said.

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