CHILDREN as young as five should be taught basic computer skills as part of a revolution in the way the subject is taught in Scottish schools, experts have said.

The call came before the launch of a new initiative at Glasgow University which will see academics collaborate with teachers, industry experts and examiners from the Scottish Qualifications Authority (SQA). Curriculum body Education Scotland will also be involved.

The Centre for Computing Science Education aims to place computing at the heart of education, shifting the subject from its traditional position as an optional course usually taken in late secondary or at college or university.

Instead, academics want to see computing science as fundamental to learning as mathematics and other sciences from the earliest stages of schooling.

Nations around the world are focussing on computing science education as governments recognise the vital importance of having a workforce with the skills to create new digital products.

The widening digital skills gap in Scotland alone has led to around 10,000 vacancies going unfilled in the IT sector each year.

However, the subject has been badly served in recent years with the SQA apologising in 2016 after producing a National 5 exam paper that contained coding errors.

Computing science has also been hit by falling teacher numbers with one in eight secondary schools no longer having a computing science specialist at all.

There was been a 14 per cent drop in the number of computing science teachers between 2014 and 2016 leading to concerns that the fall would impact on the number of pupils wanting to study the subject at secondary school and university.

Quintin Cutts, Professor of Computer Science Education at Glasgow University, said embedding computing science in schools from an early age was hugely important.

He said: “Schools of education have been studying the teaching of numeracy and literacy for generations, but computing science hasn’t been researched with anything close to the same rigour.

“Digital technology is quickly becoming the key driver of innovation in societies and economies across the world and it is vital Scotland has a workforce which reflects that.

“We can’t simply teach students how to use products like Microsoft Office and expect them to succeed – they need to have the computational thinking skills required to imagine and develop new products for themselves.”

The Centre of Computing Science Education will conduct research to determine the most effective methods of teaching computing science, review existing research from the last five decades of teaching, and help to create new curriculum materials and teaching techniques.

Shirley-Anne Somerville, the Higher Education Minister, said all young people in Scotland should have the skills needed to thrive in modern society.

She said: “We must take advantage of the opportunities that digital technology offers to tackle the attainment gap and maximise the opportunities technology offers to improve delivery of education and prepare our learners with the skills required for the workplace.

“The new centre is a unique combination which brings together expertise to support improvements in computing science education.

“Throughout our education system, we are working to equip all young people with the digital skills they will need to be able to contribute to and participate in growing Scotland’s economy.”