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From MFL to computer science: the power of languages

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Paul Hipperson reflects on moving from teaching MFL to computer science and how his passion for learning new languages helped ease the transition.

I am a language lover and have taught French, German and English in my career, and learnt several others to a lesser degree (Wolof, Kiswahili, Arabic, Nepali, Pashto). I can now add a few others to that list: Python, JavaScript, HTML, CSS, Php, SQL, and report that my newfound love of computer science has reignited my passion for language learning and teaching.

The transition from a full-time teacher of MFL in a mainstream secondary school, to Head of Digital Literacy and Computer Science in a Pupil Referral Unit, has been gradual but smooth and extremely rewarding. I got my current job thanks to a good working knowledge of IT skills gained from preparing MFL lessons in PowerPoint and Word and using Excel as an administration tool, but I knew very little about computer science.

Thanks to time well spent during lockdown and help from the NCCE, I was able to learn what I had always considered the “dark arts” of programming - the mysteries of what lies inside computers and how they function.

Now, with the help of the generous NCCE bursary funding and the expert advice of a mentor, we are about to introduce the GCSE in computer science to our curriculum and offer an after school coding club. The benefits to my students are enormous as I have the knowledge and the resources to ensure they can engage with future technologies as creators rather than simply users.

The personal benefits to me have also been huge as my love of teaching and learning has been reinvigorated and I know that should I need to make another career change, options are wide open to me. I started my working life teaching English as a foreign language in Tanzania and Senegal and have always wanted to return to Senegal (my wife’s home country) to work but other than the ability to teach and speak English had little to offer.

Now I hope to return with something more tangible in my suitcase – the ability to teach computer science and access to great hardware and software that I could even use to set up my own computer science school. If you love learning and teaching languages, then computer science is also for you!

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