When Ian McCrae’s teenage son took digital technologies as one of his NCEA subjects, the Orion Health boss was pleased. With a serious IT skills shortage affecting businesses like his, one more student heading towards computer science at university was a bonus.
A few months down the track, McCrae’s view changed. He was shocked to find that instead of learning coding and working on algorithms, his son seemed to be spending his time writing reports – part of a curriculum which sees ICT lumped in with woodwork and sewing, not science and maths.
“I suspect you can do the entire digital tech course without writing a line of code,” McCrae says – correctly, as it turns out.
McCrae says instead of studying topics like coding, algorithms and logical reasoning, his son’s high school digital technology curriculum shares modules with the other tech subjects like hard tech (woodwork and metalwork), soft tech (sewing) and food tech (cooking). These courses involve a lot of lengthy report-writing, which also puts potential IT students off.
Have not meant many techies who like report writing!
“Bright kids coming through the school system are being turned off computing because digital technologies is considered a dumb subject. Clever kids do chemistry or physics, but those naturally lead on to chemistry or physics courses at university, not computer science.”
McCrae argues this is crazy, because IT is where the jobs are – not chemistry. And it leaves companies like Orion Health forced to find their developers overseas, or poach them from other IT companies – companies like Xero, Diligent, Trade Me or Wynyard Group – all of which are themselves struggling to find experienced staff.
They report Trade Me has 1,200 computer science jobs and 22 chemistry jobs!
New Zealand needs to follow the lead of the UK, where major changes to the curriculum have already happened, McCrae says.
In September 2014, the UK became what the Guardian newspaper called “the guinea pig for the most ambitious attempt yet to get kids coding”. Curriculum changes saw ICT (information and communications technology) replaced by “computing”, including coding for children as young as five.
We asked Ian McCrae’s what three IT jobs our kids should be aiming for:
Data scientist. The industry is crying out for people that can take all those numbers coming out of the cloud and make sense of them;
Mobility expert. No, not walking about. Mobility is all about doing clever stuff for mobile devices;
Cyber security guru. McCrae spoke to one US company recently that estimated 80% (yes 80%!) of the traffic to their site is “inappropriate” – ie unwanted or dangerous. There aren’t nearly enough experts blocking all that stuff.
Data science is very cool.