INSIGHT: How do we develop New Zealand’s next generation of computer scientists?

Is New Zealand is doing enough to help develop the next generation of computer scientists and tech entrepreneurs?

Previously I asked if New Zealand is doing enough to help develop the next generation of computer scientists and tech entrepreneurs.

My view is that we need to spark an interest in computing and entrepreneurship among Kiwi kids as early as possible – starting at primary school. If we don’t focus on this, we risk not having the talent to create a technology sector that could be the leading source of export revenues for the country.

So how do we achieve this?

First, we need to work out how to make computing interesting for kids, particularly girls, from a young age.

This means looking at how computer and business studies are presented at school. As I wrote before, technology classes at school, especially at primary level, tend to focus on how to use devices rather than how to create something with them.

To get kids excited about technology, we need show them what they create with it. Getting them to develop their own apps or games which they can sell is sure to grab their attention, as they get to have fun making something tangible and earn some pocket money from it.

Another great way to get kids excited about computing and programming is robotics. By building robots, they get to see how their programming translates into something that physically moves in the real world – rather than just looking at pixels on a screen.

While some secondary schools do have robotics clubs or teach it in computer science classes, it is not widespread enough and I don’t believe it is beyond primary schools kids to start learning how to build and program basic robots.

Technology companies can also play an active role in getting kids keen on computer science. They can host interactive workshops and seminars to show young people some of the cool stuff they could do or create with computing, and what kind of careers they could pursue in this field.

Again, some of this is already happening in secondary schools. However, there are definite opportunities to inspire children at a younger age to imagine becoming computer scientists, robot builders or app developers, and not just police officers, fire fighters or rugby (and now also cricket) players.

This leads to the second area that needs to be addressed – technical skills within the education sector.

It is fair to say not many teachers these days have the technical knowledge to teach computer science at an advanced level, so are unable to pass those expertise onto their students.

The technical skills gap in our education sector needs to be addressed if we are going to be able develop the next generation of IT professionals.

We need to look at how to upskill our teachers to be able to teach computer studies, even at primary school level, or how to attract people with technical skills into teaching.

This does not need to be the sole responsibility of the Government or Ministry of Education – it should be a partnership with the private sector, which will benefit from the skills and talent generated.

While the Ministry of Education should take a leading role to ensure teachers are trained to be able to provide computer science courses at schools, technology companies can also contribute their resources and expertise to support the teaching of computer studies.

But what can we, as IT professionals, do to help?

Start with asking ourselves what we are doing to encourage our own kids, especially girls, to explore tech careers.

How are we getting them excited about technology and how it works beyond letting them play games on our smartphones?

We also need to look at how we can support our local schools. Can we teach a computing class, run a coding workshop or give a talk to students about our work? Initiatives we can support include Code Club, #GirlsInnov8, Gather Workshops or Tek Ctrl/.

Finally, we should also be lobbying the government to ensure New Zealand is training the next generation of computer scientists.

So go out and do your bit to help us develop a thriving tech sector in this country.

By Bruce Aylward, CEO, Psoda

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