Retro computer roadshow bringing IT skills to NI schools

Retro computer roadshow bringing IT skills to NI schools

The students are introduced to vintage technology as a retro computer roadshow makes its way through Northern Ireland.

The students were amazed by 8-bit computers, video games and early examples of the mobile phone.

The Code Show aims to educate and inspire students to consider a career within the IT industry.

There is a shortage of IT skills in Northern Ireland and a relatively low number of girls are studying computer science.

This is due to cultural stereotypes.

Gareth O’Hare of Wellington College in Belfast supports the proposal to introduce the roadshow to Northern Ireland.

“I want to bring this around schools to give that little spark. I want kids to get that ignition, that interest that might make them choose a career in IT,” he said.

The Code Show was first conceived by Gary McNab, who has over 20 years of experience in the STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) industry.

Speaking about his motivation for launching The Code Show, he said: “By teaching the computer curriculum in a local primary school, I have found that the National Curriculum makes no mention of how Britain entered the computer age.

“With over 300 machines and my passion, I believe I can provide schools with an affordable and alternative experience in their own environment, giving the whole school a day full of learning and hands-on experiences.”

Vintage breakout computer

The Atari 2600 dominated the games industry in the 1980s

The traveling technology museum is expected to visit 10 different schools over the course of two weeks and Mr O’Hare says it was well received in the first location.

“The students were actually just as excited as we were; we saw the expression on their faces when they entered the room. They just wanted to experience everything.”

Students amused by it were amused by the primitive nature of the technology, but could understand how advanced it must have once been.

For most, the world’s first electric car – a Sinclair C5 – proved to be a showstopper.

Year nine student Jason Allen played a game of the 80s classic Manic Miner and was surprised by how much he liked it.

“It’s fun, hard, not like most games I’ve played. It’s the graphics I expected, I really enjoyed it and I would play it again.

“It doesn’t seem easy because the code behind it was big for its time. The fact that this was made [at the time it was] is quite a shock to me.”

The code show at Wellington College

The Code Show made its first visit to Northern Ireland last week and has visited 10 different schools

Explaining the IT skills shortage, Mr McNab says it is often a male-dominated industry, with studies showing that female participation is lagging far behind.

“The element that is missing is the number of girls who choose to take IT subjects at GCSE and A levels,” he said.

To address this, his university runs coding clubs for girls and has introduced programming during Key Stage Three to help develop students’ understanding and interest in the subject from a younger age.

“There is always a demand for coders, but like medicine, IT has a wide and varied set of specialties.

“Cybersecurity is a hugely growing industry and threat. A huge career sector is growing in this part of the industry and I know of one success story from here.”

Female students using vintage computer

The traveling exhibition aims to inspire students to pursue a career in IT

One such success story is Sophie Kane, who has just dropped out of college to pursue an apprenticeship in software development and computer systems.

“I was never really interested in IT, I was introduced to coding and found it quite difficult,” she said.

“It wasn’t until I was introduced to the visual applications through gaming, Xboxes, PlayStations… it led to something.

“You see it’s all math and text. You can make a game out of anything you want if you have those skills.

“It’s not something a lot of women go to.”

Commodore computer

The classic Commodore was one of the pieces of technology on display

Speaking about the change in curriculum over the years, Mr. O’Hare said, “Six or seven years ago, interest in the computer science curriculum started to rise.

“[This event] reminds students that the growing IT industry in Northern Ireland is not a job, but a career, and paid better than most.

“It’s a lifelong career, and by employing female role models, it can help increase girls’ uptake in computer science.”

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