Treat computing science like maths or physics, tech sector review recommends
Computing science should be treated as a core science subject like maths or physics if Scotland’s tech sector is to grow, a report produced for the Scottish Government has said.
This is just one of the 34 recommendations in the Scottish Technology Ecosystem Review by tech entrepreneur and former Skyscanner COO Mark Logan.
The review notes that while maths is taught from primary one, and other key subjects such as history, geography, chemistry and physics are brought in from S1, computing science is only introduced as an optional subject in S3.
And while secondary teachers typically hold a relevant degree in their subject, teachers of computing science often do not hold a computing degree but have been co-opted in from other subjects to cover courses, with 17 per cent on secondary schools having no dedicated computing teachers.
Teaching it as an optional subject from S3 “sends signals” to children that it is not important, the report says, while the use of non-specialist teachers limits what can be taught and makes the subject “boring”.
The report says: “Our reliance on non-dedicated and non-specialist teachers impacts upon the syllabus, by restricting what can be taught.
“The interest level inherent in the syllabus, including associated projects, is therefore reduced.
“Put simply, the curriculum is boring; it is the author’s experience that, anecdotally, many children who profess an interest in computing science before commencing National 5 studies are put off the subject during those studies.
“Approximately only 50 per cent of students who study computing science at National 5 level choose the subject at Higher level, compared to 70 per cent for history and geography, for example.
“For a subject that is inherently magical (the ability to build almost anything), this is disappointing, and something is wrong.”
The review calls for computing science to be introduced in first year as with other science subjects, for more effort to be made to attract computing science graduates into teaching and for dedicated training each year to help computing teachers stay up to date with new developments.
Other recommendations in the review include increasing the focus on entrepreneurship in computing science degrees, the creation of a national network of incubation hubs in Edinburgh, Glasgow, Dundee, Aberdeen, Stirling and Inverness, reducing rail travel costs to make it easier to attract talent between Scotland’s cities, and providing support for the country’s major tech conferences to make them more international.
In terms of financial support, it recommends that funding be set up in four areas: foundational talent, for early stages of the ecosystem and skills; a ‘tech-scaler start-up fund’ to provide grants for start-ups; an ‘ecosystem-builders’ fund’, to support those organisations that contribute to strengthening the ecosystem through peer networking and informal education; and an ‘international market square fund’ for events that bring international expertise and raise awareness of Scotland’s tech sector.
Other funding recommendations include specific funding for female founders and the creation of a database of funders and start-ups to make it easier for them to find each other.
The review also calls for the introduction of a ‘Scottish tech visa’ to attract tech talent from abroad, although it recognises that the Scottish Government does not have the power to introduce this.
The aim of all the measures in the review is to move Scotland beyond a ‘tipping point’ to where the sector is self-sustaining and not in need of any support, with a healthy growth of start-ups into scale-ups and unicorns (a start-up valued at over $1bn).
Logan emphasises that all the recommendations must be carried out together to see results, because they are dependent on each other.
Commenting on the report, Logan said: “I’m very excited by this close collaboration between the Scottish Government and our technology sector.
“The talent and ambition within the sector is the strongest I’ve seen in decades and creates enormous potential, not only in helping Scotland navigate this challenging period, but also in generating jobs and opportunity for our people well into the future.
“The initiatives outlined in this review would help accelerate us towards a world-class technology ecosystem, of which the nation can be proud.”
Finance secretary Kate Forbes, who commissioned the review in June, said: “This report provides an industry-led blueprint for the Scottish tech industry, outlining the actions necessary to elevate the sector to a world-class level.
“There can be no doubt that Scotland’s economy faces significant challenges as we emerge from the coronavirus (COVID-19) crisis.
“I believe tech companies have a central part to play in this recovery, so helping them to flourish is now more important than ever.
“The crisis also provides us with an opportunity to reshape the economy to be fairer, greener and more innovative, and tech companies have the dynamism and growth potential to make this a reality.
“I asked Mark Logan to review the sector in recognition of this, and I look forward to outlining how we plan to take forward his ambitious recommendations.”
Jane Morrison-Ross, chief executive of tech sector trade body ScotlandIS, said: "I am delighted to see the publication of the ecosystem review.
“I believe we need this innovative, national, strategic approach to create a tech permaculture that will help us put Scotland on the global map as a digital nation.
"ScotlandIS champions digital skills and is strongly in favour of the recommendations in the report.
“Taking them forward is key to creating an inclusive, innovative digital Scotland and will provide ample return on investment.”