Computer gaming set to take school lessons to next level

NEW school qualifications in computer gaming are to be launched in September by the Scottish exams board.

The courses in games design and programming were created after demand from teachers, The Scotsman has learned.

Similar courses already exist at college level in the form of Higher National Certificates and Diplomas, which are equivalent to the first year of a degree.

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But school teachers said there was a market for teenagers to learn the skills needed for the courses at an earlier stage.

The Scottish Qualifications Authority (SQA) said its new modules would strengthen Scotland's reputation as having the most developed computer gaming curriculum in the world.

Bobby Elliott, qualifications manager at SQA, said the move could mean more girls being attracted to one of Scotland's key booming industries.

He said: "It is hoped the new qualifications will introduce young people at school and college to games development and give them an insight into the industry with a view to progression into further study or employment.

"Scotland is leading the way in producing home-grown developing talent.

"It is hoped the new qualifications will be popular in schools and colleges, allowing pupils to write and develop their own games, and attract learners, particularly girls, to computing."

As the courses have not yet been launched, it is not known yet what uptake is likely to be.

The new units are to be officially unveiled at the Scottish Learning Festival in September.

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Computer gaming has been recognised as a key industry for Scotland, with the Scottish Government providing funding for games courses at universities including Edinburgh's Napier.

Abertay University in Dundee - which launched the world's first computer gaming degree in 1997 - has developed an international reputation for gaming degrees, which has made the city a UK centre for the industry.

Best-selling computer game, Grand Theft Auto, which became a global hit, was created by Dundee-based firm Rockstar North.

The UK has the largest market for computer games in Europe and the third largest in the world after US and Japan.

However, the industry has been thrown into flux in Scotland after recent blows.

The Westminster coalition government ditched key Labour tax breaks for computer gaming companies after coming to power.

And industry experts described it as a blow when Edinburgh Napier admitted it would be forced to close a unique course aimed at created a new generation of gaming entrepreneurs after just a year.

Labour MP Ann McKechin slammed the end of the tax break and described the industry as a key economic area for Scotland.

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She said the tax breaks were vital to keep, and create jobs, in Scotland.And she added: "Thousands of jobs are at stake and it is wildly irresponsible of ministers not to discuss the impact of abolishing these tax breaks with the industry before announcing the cut."

In detail:

THERE will be nine new modules launched in computer gaming this September by the Scottish Qualifications Authority.

They vary from Intermediate 1 (which is equivalent to Standard grade) to Intermediate 2 and up to Higher.

They will include different levels of designing and developing computer games, and provide a transition to HNCs and HNDs in computer games development, which have been running in colleges since 2006.

Pupils will write and design their own games. They will also discover what skills the industry needs and what careers they could have in the sector.