Retro computing roadshow bringing IT skills to NI schools

Retro computing roadshow bringing IT skills to NI schools

Pupils get to use vintage technology as a retro computer roadshow makes its way across Northern Ireland.

Students have been amazed by 8-bit computers, video games and early cell phone examples.

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

There is a shortage of IT skills in Northern Ireland and relatively few girls study IT.

This has been attributed to cultural stereotypes.

Gareth O’Hare from Wellington College Belfast is behind the proposal to bring the roadshow to Northern Ireland.

“I want to take it to schools to give that little spark, I want kids to get that ignition, that interest that can make them choose a career in IT,” he said.

The Code Show was first conceived by Gary McNab, who has more than 20 years of experience in the STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) industries.

Speaking about his motivations for starting The Code Show, he said: “While running the computing curriculum at a local primary school, I discovered that the National Curriculum does not mention how Britain entered the computer age.

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

Vintage computer

The Atari 2600 dominated the gaming industry during the 1980s

The traveling technology museum is expected to visit 10 different schools over two weeks and Mr O’Hare says it has been well received at its first location.

“The students were really just as excited as we were; we saw the expressions on their faces when they walked into the room. They just wanted to experience everything.”

The students who had fun with it were amused by the primitive nature of the technology, but could appreciate how advanced it must have once been.

For most, the world’s first electric car – a Sinclair C5 – turned out to be a flagship.

Year 9 student Jason Allen played a game of the 1980s classic Manic Miner and was surprised by how enjoyable he found it.

“It’s fun, challenging, not like most games I’ve played. The graphics are what I expected, I really enjoyed it and would play it again.

“It doesn’t seem basic because the code behind it was big for its time. The fact that it was done [at the time it was] it’s 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 traveled to 10 different schools

Explaining the lack of IT skills, Mr McNab says it can often be a male-dominated industry with surveys finding female participation is far behind.

“The missing element is the number of girls choosing to take IT courses at GCSE and A-level,” she said.

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

“Coders are always in demand, but like medicine, IT has a large and varied degree of specialization.

“Cyber ​​security is a massively growing field and threat. A huge career field is growing in this part of the industry and I know of a success story from here.”

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 left college to undertake a software and computer systems development apprenticeship.

“I was never really interested in IT, I got into coding and found it quite difficult,” he said.

“It wasn’t until I was introduced to visual applications through games, Xboxes, PlayStations… something sparked.

“You see it’s all math and text. Anything you want, you can make it a game if you have these skills.

“It doesn’t tend to be something that a lot of women turn to.”

Commodore computer

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

Speaking about how the curriculum has changed over the years, Mr O’Hare said: “Six or seven years ago, curriculum interest in Computer Science started to grow.

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

“It’s a career of a lifetime and by using female role models, it can help strengthen the assimilation of girls into Computer Science.”

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