Computing science students tap into teaching

13th July 2012 at 01:00
School placements attract them to a new career, but jobs could prove scarce

Final-year computing science students with no interest in teaching are being turned on to life in the classroom, thanks to a course that places them in a school. Now more universities are offering the course - but there might not be jobs for them, warns a computing teachers' association.

Kate Farrell, chair of Computing at School Scotland and a computing teacher at Castlebrae Community High in Edinburgh, welcomed the new route into teaching but added: "We are concerned that there are few jobs for computing teachers.

"Some schools do not recognise computer science as being a critical element of Scotland's digital future and are not replacing posts when teachers retire or move on."

Over the past six years, the University of Glasgow has run a Computing Science in the Classroom option for its fourth-year students, which allows them to work in schools for 10 half-days as part of their course. During the placement they design and deliver a workshop, in consultation with the teacher, on a relevant topic.

Every year the option has attracted around a dozen students, motivated to take part usually because they wanted to "give something back", but rarely because they wanted to enter teaching, said computing science lecturer Quintin Cutts, who devised the course with his colleague Phil Gray.

Ultimately, at least two of them were turned on to teaching every year; this year it was three.

Now similar schemes have been set up at Glasgow Caledonian University and Heriot-Watt University in the capital, and the University of Edinburgh is planning to follow suit.

Dr Cutts said: "It's hard for teachers to keep up-to-date, so this is a way for them to get a livewire into the classroom who will be doing exciting projects with their pupils."

The students also acted as role models for pupils, he added. From the students' perspective, the placement improved their organisational and communication skills - one said presenting to technology giant IBM was easy in comparison to a group of 14-year-olds.

New career beckons

Gareth Renaud, 28, had planned to become a software developer until he started working at Lomond School in Helensburgh in the final year of his computing science degree at the University of Glasgow. Now he has set his sights on becoming a computing teacher and starts his training after the summer.

"When I was delivering a workshop the day just flew by and I realised I was really enjoying myself," he said.

His interest was also sparked by the creativity and interdisciplinary approaches under Curriculum for Excellence.

He was less impressed with current arrangements, saying there was too much focus on teaching to the test.

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