Ramon Moorlag is a computer science teacher at the Rev. Pierson College in Den Bosch
Ramon Moorlag is a computer science teacher at the Rev. Pierson College in Den Bosch

Image: Rob Niemantsverdriet

Schools scrap computer science subject

Computer science is by far the biggest deficit subject in secondary education. Experienced teachers are retiring and there is little new recruit. Guest lecturers from the business community come to the rescue, but that does not offer a structural solution.

It really says there, in the official figures for the biggest shortage subjects: 'Informatics has been kept out of the graph because these large percentages make the rest illegible.'

The picture remains worrying: already a 5 percent shortage in classical languages, French, German, science subjects and Dutch, so one in twenty vacancies cannot be filled. In four years, in 2026, that will be one in fourteen for Dutch and one in eight for German and chemistry. In computer science it is worse: one in four vacancies cannot be filled now, in 2026 that will be half and in 2036 this shortage will be more than 60 percent: for three of the five vacancies in computer science there is no teacher to be found.

No wonder that some schools are canceling the elective subject: since 2020 no more computer science for the havo and vwo students of the Peelland College in Deurne, for example, where the teacher only had the exam classes in the last year before his retirement.

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Twenty years ago there was more attention and action, says secretary Aad van der Drift of the i&i teachers' association, which is convinced that every student has the right to computer science education. But in havo and vwo, less than half of the schools have computer science in the lesson table. “Many schools want to offer the subject, but they don't know how to get teachers,” says Van der Drift. And there is a lot of demand for ICT talents, also from the government and the business community.

Professionals

Can experts from the business community help out, out of social or self-interest? In the regions of Twente, Utrecht and Amsterdam this seems to be possible with the project Co-Teach Informatica, project education by IT professionals. Their boss allows them to put in forty hours, which usually comes down to twenty contact hours in class in collaboration with a teacher qualified for another subject. This includes an online learning track for the compulsory domains, compiled by universities, with a subsidy from two ministries.

Computer science teacher Ramon Moorlag. Image: Rob Niemants sadness

Nine schools are currently participating, four of which have been able to keep computer science afloat thanks to the project. On the other five, the course has started again or for the first time with introductory lessons in the third grade in the spring of 2021. Currently, 158 high school students are taught in fourth grade through Co-Teach. Project leader Ivar Troost of Utrecht University: “The lecturers receive a crash course didactics and support in developing teaching materials based on their expertise. The enthusiasm from companies is enough to be able to scale up if we can set up more subject support centers at the universities and if schools register. Co-Teach is a bridge; schools must express the intention to hire a qualified computer science teacher as soon as one is available.”

“The teachers get a crash course didactics and support in developing teaching materials based on their expertise”

Distance education is also the idea behind Fundament without a subject teacher, but without guest teachers. This method of Publishing Instruct puts teachers with different qualifications for the computer science class. A remote helpdesk takes care of the substantive questions. According to Instruct, some schools are ready for the start in the coming school year.

Training more teachers, for the time being in Amsterdam and the surrounding area, is done via Bètapartners, which allows ICT professionals to make the step to education, either part-time or fully. “But actually there is a lot of catching up to do,” says subject support center coordinator Jasper Dukers, himself a lateral entrant in the subject and subject didactician at the University of Amsterdam.

Satisfaction

No matter how great the shortfall, any emergency solution comes with a plan to return to a normal curriculum with qualified teachers, finds AObboard member Jelmer Evers. “The same applies to the big cities: an emergency plan should not be structural, it should not become the new norm. This is part of the task for the cabinet: ensure a clear approach to the teacher shortage instead of ad hoc policy.”

“People hardly realize the satisfaction it gives to interest students in a subject”

Think of the short and the long term, says I&I secretary Van der Drift. “Deploy refugees with technical training, offer retraining, improve the image of education. People hardly realize the satisfaction it gives to interest students in a subject. As an association, we are not against the use of differently qualified teachers and cross-pollination in the current situation. You can also link digital literacy to mathematics, geographical information systems fit with geography. But you cannot teach without a teacher. We do not believe in a booklet, a screen and a help desk while the proverbial gym teacher supervises with broken knees.”

After secondary education, pupils know how to find their way to ICT. According to the TechniekPact, 40 percent of senior secondary vocational education graduates already graduate with an ICT diploma, compared to 29 percent in higher professional education. Secondary education should stimulate that interest, says Van der Drift. “In secondary education we make choices for life. There is a lot to play with in computer science and students you touch with it are worth gold for the future. We just have to serve that group.”

And that will happen again, assures team leader Theo Goossens of the Peelland College in Deurne. “We had to stop, but this is such a good subject, especially for practically motivated havo students. The current projects look promising. If it's up to me, computer science will be back with us tomorrow."

VMBO: IT is everywhere

Dutch teacher Hanneke Steenbekkers saw a vacancy in information science (0,2 FTE) at her VMBO school, just when she wanted to work more hours. Based on her experience in the business world and as a secretarial secondary vocational education teacher, this was quickly arranged. She describes her work modestly: “For us, information science means: Office and making a report, Word, Excel, PowerPoint, Forms, safe surfing, preventing Phishing, good searching on the internet, working with and in the Cloud, some programming. I teach my students some skills, not a trade.”

In addition to such basic skills, 10 percent of the VMBO branches offer the Media, design and ICT (MVI) profile. But computer science is everywhere and that is why in VMBO there are new learning paths as well as exam programs with the subject information technology.
Need more teachers? The Utrecht school X11 for pre-vocational secondary education/havo for media and design has solutions for this. Director Moniek Rieter: “We don't necessarily have to have this profile offered by ICT teachers. It's about instilling a permanent curiosity about technical developments.”

Project leader Jeppe den Uijl: "They don't have to master sensors, laser cutters and 3D printers to perfection, it's about knowing these tools to make something different with them."

Rieter: “For example, our MVI teachers have an art education or a social background, they have already learned to experiment and research. We see more people choose this profession with meaning. You make a difference for children, it's not a bad salary and you do something nice and valuable every day."

In both VMBO and X11 HAVO, the subject revolves around student development, says Den Uijl: “Informatics is also about making, designing and society. There's philosophy in it. It is not a separate subject, but a pair of glasses to look at the world.”

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