Teachers in Scotland are attempting to  future-proof pupils’ skillsets, with iPads introducing many to the joys of coding


Mark Logan’s recent Scottish Technology Ecosystem Review highlighted the importance of teaching computer science to the future of the Scottish economy - but many schools are already taking strides forwards.

All first and second year pupils at secondary schools in the Scottish Borders council region took a six-week coding course during lockdown and before the summer holidays.

The programme was planned for autumn, but due to the fact pupils had all been provided with Apple iPads, the authority was able to bring it forward.
Susan Oliver, head teacher at Jedburgh Grammar, said: “The coding project provided a great opportunity for our young people to begin learning about coding and this is something we plan to build on in the future.”

The council is planning to encourage all of the primary and secondary schools to participate in the free live follow-along coding sessions that are organised by two teachers, Matt Hanlon and Steve Bunce. This will follow the Quick Start to Code Guide, published by Apple.

This is available on the Swift Playgrounds app, something that has proved popular across Europe.

Liesbeth Heijman from OBS de Stapsteen school in the Netherlands is a teaching, learning and innovation co-ordinator and said the pupils loved the learning something that challenged them.

“It was engaging them to work together and help each other with different solutions,” she said.

“They communicated together and had fun. After a while I heard that pupils in my coding groups were teaching other children in their class about Swift and they talked about it at home. Parents became interested in coding and the use of technology at our school in general as well.

They wanted to know what we did at school and why. So coding became a great way to teach pupils new skills but it also enabled a much larger communication that was very positive.”

In Italy, Alessandro Suizzo is a history and literature teacher at Istituto Tecnico Economico “Gioacchino Russo”. He introduced Swift Playgrounds into his lessons in 2018.

“I immediately noticed that the class set-up changed and students started to collaborate and solve problems together. As a result they learned ancient literature more deeply and had way more fun than before while coding the Dante droid on the Inferno map,” he said.

“Students with dysgraphic problems felt more integrated and active during Swift lessons, and started to maintain their attention more and focus on some specific tasks. 

“It’s incredible that their dysgraphic and dyslexic problems seem to virtually disappear when they were busy identifying a bug and debugging process or when they were creating functions and cycles in code.”

There is no doubt that teaching coding is not simply teaching the language of technology – it is also teaching new ways to think and bring ideas to life.

The World Economic Forum lists skills like critical thinking, analysis, leadership and social influence as critical skills for the future workplace. These are central to roles like solution architect, data label specialist, human machine interaction designer, computer systems analyst, and director of people and culture.

But it’s not just about jobs, just as important are the essential skills that students need to succeed in the code-driven world, no matter what career they pursue.

Paul Graham is the principal teacher for maths, computing and numeracy at Kelso High School. He said using iPads and learning about coding had really engaged pupils in their classes.  

“Personally I witnessed a group of boys whose whole attitude to learning changed as they were able to do tasks in mathematics at their own pace after videoing examples and using these to recap as and when they needed,” he said.

“We are also really striving to make our pupils more familiar with programming since this is such a useful skill to have and the iPads make this more engaging through Apps such as Swift.

“I’ve also loved how pupils with dyslexia can use the inbuilt accessibility tools to help them read text, for example, or visually impaired pupils can easily change the settings to make text more readable amongst many other options.”

The Scottish Technology Ecosystem Review also mentioned CodeClan as a way of upskilling or reskilling working adults. It is an organisation that provides a 16-week intensive training programme in software engineering from bases in Edinburgh, Glasgow and the Highlands. Courses cost around £6,000, although there are some loan and grant options available to help students meet these costs.

“When compared to comparable college-level courses, CodeClan significantly outperforms,” Logan writes in the report.

“Completion rates are higher, employers are enthusiastic and engaged with the organisation and are starting to compete to employ its graduates. Students tend to be changing careers into software engineering, with more life experience than typical students, which makes them particularly interesting for industry.”

The report recommends that this resource be more strategically used and scaled to produce more graduates. Its approach could also be replicated to some degree in colleges.

“This is not a theoretical discussion,” Logan said. “There are already some very dedicated and positive people working in the industry.”