Education in Ireland

Perspectives on the Irish education system distilled through the crucible of experience,leavened with the empirical wisdom of the perpetual student!

Friday, August 24, 2007

ICT as an effective tool for Special Education Needs

I was struck by the relative lack of interest shown by ILSA members who attended the annual conference in September (2006), in those stands at the exhibition that demonstrated the use of ICT in SEN. In fact, so sparse was the interest in ICT that one exhibitor packed up early and left! Why this lack of interest in a medium of instruction that has the capacity to make a significant contribution, in the hands of a trained practitioner, to teaching and learning in the special needs area?

Technology has the capacity to create a revolution in education. In the past 20 years technology has penetrated every area of society and every aspect of our social and cultural lives. Television liberated the world from the confines of text and static illustrations. Computers make possible vast amounts of information, instantly available at the stroke of a key. Children are now growing up with remote controls. Interactive technology is as common in today’s home as television was in the past. Children are now raised in a world where they can control information flow and access.
Research in the US has shown that when ICTs are used effectively they bring about changes in the role of teachers
A major theme in the theoretical framework of Bruner is that learning is an active process in which the learner constructs new ideas or concepts based upon current or past knowledge. The practical application of this theory to the classroom is that the teacher should help the child to learn how to learn, how to find and apply the information needed and to become an adaptable, collaborative problem-solver. Constructivism argues that education should be an active, multi-disciplinary, exploratory and social activity.
If technology is to support this theory, the nature of the activity should be on the development of abilities to ask critical questions, locate relevant information and integrate this information and to communicate effectively. Software programs that support this kind of activity should encourage the use of collaborative and integrated activities that put children in control of the computer.
Bruner talked of the need for learners to be reflective “turning around what they’ve learned.” Bruner called this reflection metacognition. There are several strategies for developing metacognition including bridging, tacit and explicit communication and self-monitoring. Peer collaboration is seen a means of enabling the above strategies. The use of ICT as a tool in teaching is one method whereby peer collaboration is positively encouraged. Peer collaboration requires communication. Such social interaction is pivotal to the collaborative learning that is involved when ICT is used as a mechanism for teaching. A growing body of research on collaborative learning has demonstrated the benefits of children working with other children in collective learning efforts. When children collaborate, they share the process of constructing their ideas, instead of simply labouring individually. The advantages of this collective effort are that children are able to reflect and elaborate not only their own ideas, but those of their peers as well. Children come to view their peers not as competitors but as resources. Mutual tutoring, a sense of shared progress and shared goals, and a feeling of teamwork are the natural outcomes of co-operative problem-solving and these processes have been shown to produce substantial advances in learning.
I hope I am making the argument that ICT has too much going for it to be simply ignored. The right software packages, coupled with proper professional training will equip any teacher with a significant array of resources to use in the Learning Support or Resource Room to the benefit of both pupils and teacher. To ignore ICT is like cutting off your right arm, or left hand, if, like me, you happen to be a ciotóg! Programs such as the Lexia Reading program, Nessy, Wordshark, Numbershark and Clicker should be an integral part of the armory of resources of every LS and RT teacher in the country. So next time you attend an ILSA conference, do please look at what is on offer at ICT stands; I can guarantee you won’t be disappointed!

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Stagnation in ICT in Irish Education

The Department of Education and Science consistently acknowledges in public the potential of ICTs to enhance the quality of teaching and learning in the Irish school system. The Minister for Education and Science, Mary Hanafin has also publicly acknowledged the wonderful work that many teachers do in using ICT for teaching and learning, when she launched the Digital Schools Initiative in February 2006.

However we have to balance these public utterances against the reality of no ICT policy or strategy in place in the DES since the Blueprint for the Future of ICT in Irish Education -Three Year Strategic Action Plan 2001-2003 expired. No funding has been given to schools to maintain, upgrade or replace outdated hardware since 2002.

Is it any wonder that Ireland is now at the bottom of league tables in the OECD Report Education at a Glance 2006? This report highlights the fact that in five countries, the Czech Republic, Hungary, Ireland, Mexico and the Slovak Republic, one in five students
have rare or no use of computers in their homes. It is extremely important that emphasis is placed on access to ICT within schools in these countries to counterbalance the lack of usage in homes. There is a very clear warning for Ireland in this report that without investment in technology in schools a large proportion of the population will get left behind in the knowledge society of the future. The digital divide is already there and widening, between Ireland and its partners within the EU and within the OECD; now we are in danger of allowing a digital divide to open up within the country too!

A report from Eurostat entitled ‘The Digital Divide in Europe’ ranks Ireland 24th out of 25 EU member states for use of the Web by school and college students. Irish students use the internet less than their European counterparts and their access to technology remains limited. Just 57 per cent of Irish students use the internet, compared to an EU average of 85 per cent across all 25 member states. Only Greece ranks below the Republic in the league table, with a score of 55 per cent, while Finland scored 97 per cent. The report was based on data collected by the agency in the second quarter of 2004.

Schools are being requested by the DES to develop an educational system in which ICTs play an integrated role, enhancing the quality of teaching and learning for all students and across all subject areas.But this request is being undertaken in a policy vacuum!

The NCCA articulated the following vision of ICT literacy for all students in a discussion paper Curriculum, Assessment and ICT in the Irish Context (2004). Our students will leave school as capable independent learners, able to use ICT confidently, creatively and productively, able to communicate effectively, able to work collaboratively, and to critically evaluate, manage and use information.

The discussion paper identified a set of guiding principles for teaching and learning with ICT and provided the basis for developing an ICT framework as a cross-curricular scaffold for planning and teaching with ICT.

This framework is for all students from primary to the end of the junior cycle (compulsory education). The framework outlines a comprehensive set of learning outcomes for each of the three levels. The only thing missing is any reference to what schools need in order to implement the laudable learning outcomes in the document, funding!

Clear policy and planned funding on an annual basis is required if schools are to have any chance of implementing ambitious schemes devised by NCCA or NCTE. Coupled with the question of funding would be:

• in-service training for teachers
• replacement policy for outdated equipment on
an industry standard
• provision of technical support on a regional
basis through the network of education centres
• development of indigenous software for the
Irish curriculum
• incentives for teachers to develop ICT skills
• appointment of ICT co-ordinators in a full
time capacity

The current state of ICT in the educational system should serve as a wake up call to the DES. Unless action is taken quickly, the current malaise will become terminal. The flickering embers kept awake by an increasingly disillusioned band of enthusiasts will be quenched and Ireland will continue to languish at the bottom of every league table for the foreseeable future.

Friday, September 01, 2006

School Leadership: some key ideas

Brian Fidler highlights some key ideas on leadership. In particular, he looks at curricular or instructional leadership.

Fidler concentrates on theoretical literature rather than empirical findings. He presents a number of theoretical perspectives for understanding and analysis.

Leadership has been widely recognised by politicians, researchers and inspectors. Leadership is distinguished from management and administration through using five perspectives.

1. Appropriate leadership needs to be situational.
2. 4 frames through which leadership can be viewed – each is related to a way of viewing the organisation – structural, human relations, political and symbolic
3. Professional leadership should have 2 components – Chief Executive and leading professional
4. Moral component of leading schools and
5. Curriculum/Instructional leadership.

Bennis (1989) suggests that leadership is like beauty, hard to define but people can recognise it when they see it. The 2 key features of leadership are:
· A sense of purpose is engendered in followers
· Followers are influenced towards goal achievement.

Leadership is thus manifested in the feelings and actions of followers and in goal achievement. Personal action is at the core of leadership. Leadership is contingent. The appropriate leadership at any time depends on the context and the nature of the followers, the issues involved and the predisposition of the leader. Although the leader may have a preferred leadership style, this may have to change according to circumstances.

Relationship of leadership and management

The two components of the role of leader are concern for people and concern for results. The sources of power and influence used by leaders and managers share a common framework:

Power based on organisational position
Power based on expertises
Power based on personal characteristics and behaviour

Schon (1984) said that managers should be leaders but not all leaders need to be in management positions. There is however a close relationship between the two positions, especially in motivating people and in giving a sense of purpose to the organisation.

Leadership is identified with the proactive aspects of the direction of the organisation’s affairs. Leadership is associated with problem solving, formulating and implementing strategy and inspiring followers to strive towards a vision of a better future. A leader will demonstrate the need to consider the future and take the organisation forward in a way that engenders the support of all who work there and a manager will plan systematic procedures to ensure the developments take place and problems re solved along the way. The two activities are complementary and need to be synchronised.

Leadership is thus likely to be high in vision and strategic planning while management will be more systematic and mundane.

Perspectives on leadership

Five perspectives on leadership are offered:

situational leadership
4 frames of leadership
leading professional and chief executive
moral leadership and
curricular or instructional leadership

No single theory can subsume all the complexities of leadership. The effectiveness of leadership can be assessed through examining the actions of leadership or the results of the actions of leadership.

Situational leadership

Hersey and Blanchard (1988) describe situational leadership as being in the “mainstream of leadership thought”. Th4 appropriate leadership style depends on the context. Some of the following variables will be taken into account:

preferred style of leadership
maturity of staff
expectations of staff
nature of task to be undertaken

Bolman and Deal’s 4 frames

They suggest four approaches to leadership:

human relations
political and

Appropriate leadership needs to be situational but a leader will have a preferred style that reflects his/her own personality. The structural framework focuses on a rational view of management. Leadership concentrates on goals and uses rational analysis, operating through a hierarchy of control and organisational structure.

The human relations frame concentrates on the behavioural aspects of management and harnessing the motivation of staff.

The political frame recognises that individuals both in side and outside the organisation have their own private interests and agendas. There will be conflicts of interest and seats of power that may lead to conflict unless bargaining, negotiation and skilful coalitions are not formed.

The symbolic frame or visionary leadership or transformational leadership is concerned with providing staff with insights into the nature of new challenges and what is to be achieved. The vision of the future may be drawn up collaboratively but the leader has the task of articulating the vision in a compelling way. Transformational leadership is contrasted with transactional leadership that is concerned with carrying out routine tasks.

Leading professional and chief executive

Leader needs to act as a chief executive in a managerial capacity and as a leader in the symbolic and political senses. The leader of a professionally staffed organisation needs to be the leading professional or a leading professional. He must espouse professional values and possess appropriate professional knowledge and judgement. If he is to lead classroom practice the quality and recency of his pedagogic and professional knowledge must be first rate.

Moral leadership

Duignan and Macpherson (1992) ascribe a “realm of ideas” to judgement about what is of value on the education of children. They see this as a third component, along with management and leadership, which is required of an educational leader.

Instructional leadership

The concept of a leading professional implies that the head teacher has an impact on the professional work of the school, including the teaching and learning. Instructional leadership has 2 aspects; the tasks to be achieved (functional approach) and the means whereby those tasks are achieved (process approach).

Functional approach has five components:

1. defining mission – aims of school and resources – communicated to staff and pupils by principal
2. managing curriculum and instruction – co-ordination of work of teachers, decisions re timetabling and information for staff to enable them to plan work. Implies up-to-the-minute knowledge of curriculum research and theoretical developments
3. supervising teaching
4. monitoring progress – implies principal has good understanding of student assessment methods.
5. promoting instructional climate – motivate staff by creating the right “atmosphere”

Process approach

Firestone and Wilson (1985) identified 3 ways to link the principal’s behaviour to that of classroom processes:

· bureaucratic and structural linkages – school policies, rules and procedures, plans/schedules, vertical information systems and supervision and evaluation
· interpersonal linkages – working with and influencing teachers’ classroom practice
· cultural linkages – shared meanings and assumptions. Firestone and Wilson identify Stories, icons and rituals.

What leaders pay attention to matters a great deal. There has to be consonance between what is declared to be a priority and what is seen to command time and resources. Fidler and Wilson point out that research in effective schools highlights principal behaviour and the effects of direct supervision and underemphasized the more indirect cultural and social linkages. Bureaucratic and cultural influences should reinforce each other.


Tuesday, August 29, 2006

Teaching for Understanding

We all endorse the concept of teaching for understanding. Understanding is defined as the capacity for using current knowledge to illuminate new problems or unanticipated issues.
We can differentiate between two types of disciplines:
1. Classical academic disciplines and
2. Regular practice with feedback in applying habits of mind that yield understanding

Disciplines are approaches made by scholars over the centuries to address essential questions, issues and phenomenon drawn from the natural and human worlds: they include methods of inquiry, concepts, theoretical frameworks, symbol images and mental models. Defining disciplinary boundaries is a complex epistemological and sociological task. A discipline must be differentiated from a subject. A subject is a collection of contents that a student needs to learn, but a discipline entails a particular mode of thinking or interpreting the world that needs to be developed by students. In school mostly what happens is a curious mix of the two. Students learn facts and concepts and master certain practices. However the “subject matter” learned is superficial and there is little “real” understanding. Many teachers succumb to “teachers’ fallacy” which entails the chain of reasoning “I taught a great class; therefore the students understood what I did”

The greatest enemy of understanding is coverage. The compulsion to teach everything that is in the textbook rather than concentrating on certain sections and assessing understanding, leads to a lack of opportunities for Meta cognition.

Much of what happens in a classroom happens for reasons unconnected to educational effectiveness. What is taught is often determined by an externally mandated curriculum. Practices endure because they have been carried out in the past.

The curriculum ought to be built around a number of central questions such as:
· Identity and history Who am I? Where do I come from?
· Other people/groups How are people similar/different to me?
· Relations to others How should you treat other people/how should they treat you?
· My place in the world Where do I live? How do I fit into the universe?
· The psychological world What is my mind? What are thoughts, dreams etc?
· The biological world Learning about other creatures. Do animals think? What about plants

Students need to master basic literacy skills. The philosopher Nelson Goodman observed that “much of common sense is actually common nonsense and it needs to be recognised as such”

The route to disciplinary knowledge leads from common sense to normal disciplinary knowledge to interdisciplinary knowledge to meta-disciplinary knowledge.

The purpose of education should be to achieve understanding: this is hard to achieve because educators have little accumulated knowledge of how to teach for it and because students harbour many habits of mind that stand in the way of acquiring genuine understanding. Paul Hirst (British) argued that disciplines do not train the mind but rather they let us see what it is to have a mind! Perhaps that is a goal worth aiming for!!

Saturday, August 26, 2006

A Portrait of a Principal as School Leader

The current practice, indeed the historic practice in Ireland, of appointing a Principal Teacher is to pluck a serving teacher from the classroom and install her/him in the position. The notion that a “good” teacher will automatically be a good principal isn’t necessarily true. A newly appointed principal will typically have very limited knowledge of office administration, know nothing about finances or financial management and very little about managing a team of professionals.

Up to very recently, no training whatsoever was offered to newly appointed principals. Belatedly, programmes such as the Leadership Development for Schools Project (LDS) and the Misneach Programme have been developed. It is a matter of regret that the DES and the managerial bodies that exercise control over entry to principalships have not seen fit to offer any professional training or help to new principals to acquire the skills necessary in order to properly discharge their functions.

Literature in the area of leadership in schools refers to three types of leadership that a principal exercises, transactional, instructional and transformational leadership.

Transactional leadership refers to day-to-day tasks that need to be done in order to ensure that school business is carried out in an efficient manner. The school has to opened for the reception of children; ancillary staff and teaching staff have to be employed, allocated tasks and supervised; heating and cleaning have to be arranged and so on. How many principals become so bogged down in the minutiae of the normal problems that an average school day throws at them that they never get beyond the transactional stage?

The conventional wisdom in Irish education for the past 25 years saw the role of the principal ideally as the instructional leader of the school. Instructional leadership had its inception in the premise that the principal had an impact on the professional work of the school, including the teaching and learning that goes on in classrooms.

Instructional leadership can be considered from two points of view - the tasks to be achieved (functional approach) and the means to achieve those tasks (process approach)

Krug (1992) identified five components to instructional leadership:

Defining the mission;
Managing the curriculum;
Supervising teaching;
Monitoring student progress and
Promoting an instructional climate.

Defining the mission:
The mission includes both the ends of schooling and means of educating. The principal as instructional leader is presumed to communicate these to both staff and pupils.

Managing the curriculum.
This involves co-ordinating the work of teachers and making school-level decisions about class allocation and time allocation for subjects. Principals also need to supply information that teachers need in order to plan their classes. A principal therefore needs up-to-date knowledge of curriculum research and new developments.

Supervising teaching.
The clinical approach to supervision would require the principal to be:
a) a student of good teaching
b) help individual members of staff to be more reflective and insightful about their methods of instruction and
c) observe classroom teaching and evaluate the lesson with the class teacher

Monitoring student progress.
The principal’s role is to understand student assessment and check progress “in ways that help teachers and students improve and help parents understand where and why improvement is needed” (Krug, 1992, p. 443)

Promoting an instructional climate.
The primary objective of a principal is to motivate, by creating conditions under which people want to improve. The principal should also seek to “protect staff from external interference.” (Fidler, 1997)

The five categories mentioned above give a functional view of the components of instructional leadership. Firestone and Wilson (1985) identify three means linking the behaviour of the principal to classroom processes:

· bureaucratic and structural linkages;
· direct interpersonal linkages;
· cultural linkages

Bureaucratic and structural linkages.
The structural mechanisms for linking principal behaviour to classroom teaching (Leitner, 1994) include policies, rules and procedures, plans and schedules, supervision and evaluation.

Direct interpersonal linkages.
These include working with and influencing individual teacher’s classroom practice and may be associated with classroom observation or one-to-one interaction.

Cultural linkages.
These may involve shared meanings and assumptions (Fidler, 1997). Firestone and Wilson (1995) identify three cultural mechanisms: stories, icons and rituals. What principals pay attention to matters a great deal. There needs to be consonance between what are declared to be priorities and what are seen to command time and resources. The importance of symbolic actions as a means of influencing the organisational culture should not be underestimated.

While the conventional wisdom focuses on the principal as an instructional leader, I suggest that this focus is flawed. Instructional leadership focuses on the wrong questions. Instead of asking what teachers are teaching, and how can they teach more effectively, the principal should be asking to what extent are students learning the intended outcomes and what steps can the principal take to give both students and teachers the additional supports required to improve learning.

Dufour (2002) maintains that there must be a shift from a focus on teaching to a focus on learning. Learning must become the preoccupation of the school. When all the school’s educators examine the efforts and initiatives of the school through the lens of their impact on learning, the structure and culture of the school will change in substantive ways. This transformation will best occur when the principal functions as a learning leader rather than instructional leader.

Dufour (2002) suggests that the transformation from teaching to learning can be best accomplished by organising the staff into teams. To enable collaborative teams to become the primary engine of the school for change, teachers need time to adapt. Teachers are more accustomed to working in isolation and they require help in the form of focus and parameters to transform the school culture into a collaborative one. They also require training, resources and support. All of these tasks fall to the principal.

In concentrating on teaching, the instructional leader emphasised the inputs of the learning process. By concentrating on learning, the learning leader shifts not only his/her own focus, but that of the school community from inputs to outcomes, and from intentions to results. Schools need instructional leadership as much as ever but only those principals who understand that the essence of their job is promoting student and teacher learning will be able to provide the kind of leadership necessary to take their schools successfully into the new millennium.


DuFour, Richard (2002) The Learning-Centred Principal, Beyond Instructional Leadership, May 2002, ASCD. Virginia

Fidler, Brian (1997) School Leadership and Management, 17, 1, 1997, Leading Professional Development in Education O.U., London

Krug, S. E. (1992) Instructional Leadership: a constructivist perspective, Educational Administrative Quarterly, 28(3), 430-43

Leitner, D. (1994) Do principals affect student outcomes: an organisational perspective, School Effectiveness and School Improvement, 5, 219-38

Firestone, W. A. and Wilson, B. L. (1985) Using bureaucratic and cultural linkages to improve instruction: the principal’s contribution, Educational Administration Quarterly, 21(2), 7-30

Friday, August 25, 2006

The Evolution of ICT and its Impact on Education

The speed of the evolution of information and communications technology (ICT) has been phenomenal. My grandfather grew up in a society without the telephone; my father in a society in which the radio was a source of wonder and television a late and expensive purveyor of black and white imagery. I live in a society that constantly expects to receive broadband Internet connectivity and my sons live in a world where music is an MP3 file downloaded from Napster.

The changes the ICT evolution has wrought affect every sector of society. My mother’s hearing aid is a miracle of miniaturisation and transistors. Without microprocessors hospitals would have to close, airlines would be grounded and the bank is enabled to closely monitor the details of my current account through on-line banking.

The evolution of ICT has occurred in five stages:

· Computer
· PC
· Microprocessor
· Internet and
· Wireless Links

The story begins during World War II with the large electromechanical calculator Harvard Mark I. It was 50 feet long, eight feet tall and weighed 5 tons. Some years later the ENIAC was presented in Philadelphia. It used 18000 vacuum tubes and weighed 30 tons. Each task to be performed required the throwing of 6000 switches covering three walls, a mammoth machine occupying a large space. In 1947 the first transistor was invented and the use of transistors allowed for the development of smaller, more versatile and more powerful computers. “Computers” became a catchword and input-output technology graduated from punch cards to magnetic tape; new computer languages were designed to allow interaction with the new technology. Applications were expanded and the ICT evolution was underway.

The second stage in the evolution of ICT began in the 1970’s when it became possible to place processors on a “chip”, and magnetic discs were constructed. In 1977 Ken Olsen, the President of Digital asserted that “There is no reason why anyone would want a computer in their home.” How wrong he was! At the same time, Steve Jobs and Steve Wosniak began to sell their Apple II machine and a young man called Bill Gates had founded a firm called Microsoft. Within a few years the PC had changed from being regarded as an esoteric toy to a valuable work tool for word processing, accounting and later graphics. IBM first launched its Personal Computer on the world in 1981. Now the PC has become as popular as bicycles in my grandfather’s time or the radio in my father’s time.

The third part of the ICT evolution is that microprocessors have now become embedded in a myriad of products to the extent that the world as we know it would grind to a halt without the humble microprocessor. The steering systems of planes, the traffic lights on our streets, the control panels of power stations, air conditions systems all depend on microprocessors. Microprocessors control every facet of our lives; they are constantly expanding their capacity, applications and users.

The fourth evolution of ICT has its origins in the 1960’s when the US Dept of Defence drew up guidelines for a communications network among computers called ARPANET. Universities within the US and later from outside the US began to link up to this system and to use it to send messages. France developed a variant – Minitel system – at the start of the 1980’s. The US National Science Foundation set up its own network as also did a number of universities on the east coast of the US. In Europe EARN became a network among academic institutions and CERN in Geneva was crucial in the development of the World Wide Web which only got its name in 1990. Within a few years “surfing” on the net became a social phenomenon. The advent of broadband will accelerate this phase in the evolution of ICT. What is important about this evolutionary phase of ICT is that users have built social networks to make them useful and effective. Indeed the social superstructure in this instance is indeed super!

The fifth and current stage in the evolutionary process of ICT is the wireless one. This phase began with the invention of the mobile phone. The initial mobile phones were large and bulky. Reduction in size has been accompanied by a greatly expanded range of functions. Now, depending on the age of the user, mobile phones are used for talking, transmitting messages, pictures and music. Linking without phone lines is now taking place not just inter-continentally but via satellite. High frequency short-range radio transmitters that cover a specific area and “blue tooth” and infra red communication within buildings makes wireless communication a world-wide phenomenon.

The speed and impact of the ICT evolution is a practical proof of Says’s Law: Supply creates its own demand. Contrary to Ken Olsen’s prediction, PCs have become a household appliance. When they became linked to a telephone line they were transformed into networks and their usefulness increased exponentially when access was available to libraries, information and email. The PC was a household gadget that became a necessity. The PC itself has become synonymous with globalisation. Components come from all continents, chips from Asia, software from America, mobile phones from Europe. Brand names are instantly recognisable all over the world.

The development of new products and services has been to the forefront of the burgeoning Irish economy and the Celtic Tiger over the past ten years. The development of the World Wide Web and the Internet has led to the development of an interactive network of individuals. It is by and for interacting people. This epitomises what the ICT evolution has been all about. It has been about spotting opportunities and inviting everybody to participate and to make good use of them. The ICT evolution has been an evolution in learning. The individual has realised the potential of the new tools and has introduced them into his/her home. As an evolution in learning, ICT has transformed the available technologies; the means of studying, the modalities of school operations, investment and expenditure on resources, and the way we think about what education should be.

The development of the Web and the Internet and the increasing availability of broadband will allow schools to post course material on the web, assignments can be communicated and received via email, and teachers can be accessed at any time. Indeed the new technologies will allow schools to reach out to many students who up to now might have slipped through the educational net. Distance education is now a reality.

The evolution in ICT should make us question the way we think about organised education. ICT liberates the provision of education from time and place constraints. Education and training can be customised by allowing materials to be adapted to individual needs and paced according to individual progress.

In Ireland we have been on the cusp of the great “leap forward” into ICT-based learning since the late 1990s. Those years of energy-charged enthusiasm have now petered into a déjà vu sense of “where did we go wrong?” Teachers have been trained in the use of ICT; computers have been put into schools, but why has the educational system not been transformed? My personal opinion is that it is far too soon to say the revolution has failed. After the hype there must be a “bedding-in”. Many teachers are only now coming to terms with ICT. Only when teachers as individuals begin to use ICT for email and begin to make use of the Internet for personal research, will they fully comprehend what an awesome tool they have for teaching and learning. It’s an evolutionary thing, which is where I think I began this essay!


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Where is the Mind?

Where is the Mind?

My mother was wont to say when she heard that a certain person had done something foolish that some people’s brains were in the seat of their pants. This brings me to the nub of the current essay, where exactly does the mind reside? Is it in the head? When a person acts emotionally is the mind in the head or in the heart?

We can identify two major trends in education research during the past decade that deal with the question of the mind. These are:
1. The constructivist view - i.e. students actively construct their knowledge as they try to be effective by restoring coherence. This view is underpinned in the literature by epistemological arguments and empirical evidence documents that the understandings that students develop in instructional situations are frequently and qualitatively different from those intended by the teacher.
2. The sociocultural view - a student’s activity and learning is profoundly influenced by participation in encompassing cultural practices, like shopping, selling or working for wages. This view of the mind is underpinned by the writings of Vygotsky with empirical support from Lave.

Depending on which of the two trends is being followed there is a dispute as to whether the mind is located in the head (constructivist) or in the individual-in-social-action (sociocultural).

The two trends also differ on the role that signs and symbols play in psychological development. Constructivists characterise them as a means for students to express and communicate thinking. Socioculturists treat them as carriers of established meanings.

Is there an apparent forced choice between the two theories? One could argue that learning should be viewed as both a process of active construction and as a process of enculturation. The apparent conflict between constructivist and sociocultural perspectives is not just a theoretical conflict; it also has significance for teaching. Ball (1993) makes reference to students’ learning as active construction while also referring to their “heritage” as in his view enculturation.

Both theories emphasise the importance of activity in learning and development. Sociocultural theorists link activity to participation in culturally organised practices, whereas constructivists emphasise sensory-motor and conceptual activity. Sociocultural theorists assume that social and cultural processes subsume cognitive processes. This is Vygotsky’s contention that “the social dimension of consciousness is primary in fact and time”.

Constructivist theorists analyse thought in terms of conceptual processes located in the individual, while Socioculturalists take the individual-in-social-action as their unit of analysis. For them the primary issue is to explain how participation in social interactions influences psychological development. Vygotsky emphasised the importance of social interaction with more knowledgeable persons in the zone of proximal development. Several theorists including Rogoff have developed Vygotsky’s ideas and talk about cognitive apprenticeship. Lave and Wenger speak about legitimate peripheral participation, i.e. the negotiation of meaning in the construction zone.

Each of the above locates learning in the coparticipation in cultural practices. Educational implications focus on the kinds of social engagements that enable students to participate in the activities of the expert rather than on the cognitive processes and conceptual structures involved.

Cognitive theorists trace their intellectual lineage to Piaget. Cobb distinguishes between 2 kinds of constructivism, psychological and interactionist. Von Glaserfield in advocating the psychological, incorporates the Piagetian notions of assimilation and accommodation. He uses the term knowledge in Piaget’s sense of adaptation to refer to sensory-motor and conceptual operations that have been viable in the learner’s experience. Learning is characterised as a process of self-organising in which the learner reorganises his activity in order to eliminate perturbations.
Glaserfeld acknowledges that constructive activity occurs as the learner interacts with other members of the community.
Bauersfeld has an interactionist view of constructivism that compliments von Glaserfeld’s. He views communication as a process of mutual adaptation in which the learner continually negotiates meanings by modifying their interpretations. This reference to indirect learning clarifies that the occurrence of perturbations isn’t limited to occasions when learners believe that communication has broken down and need to explicitly negotiate meanings. Communication is a process of implicit negotiations.
The Sociocultural theory defines negotiation as a process of mutual appropriation in which the teacher and learner continually co-opt each other’s contributions.

The two perspectives address different problems and issues. Sociocultural analysis locates the classroom within a broader activity system that takes account of schooling as a social institution, and is interested in the immediate interactions between teacher and student. This dual focus can be seen in Lave and Wenger’s claim that their concept of legitimate peripheral participation provides a framework for bringing together theories of situated activity and theories about production and reproduction of the social order. A basic tenet underpinning this work is that it is not appropriate to single out qualitative differences in individual thinking apart from their sociocultural situation because differences in students’ interpretations of school tasks reflect qualitative differences in the communities they participate in, (Bredo and McDermott)
Cognitive theorists on the other hand are concerned with the quality of individual interpretative activity, with the development of learning at a micro-level and with the learners interactive constitution of the classroom social norms.

In comparing Rogoff’s and Von Glaserfeld’s work we can note that Rogoff’s view of learning as acculturation via guided participation implicitly assumes an actively constructing child. Von Glaserfeld’s view of learning as cognitive self-organisation implicitly assumes that the child is participating in cultural practices. Each view, sociocultural and cognitive, tells half a good story and each can be used to complement the other.

Rogoff’s work indicates that SC analyses involve implicit cognitive commitments. Claims about the location of the mind reflect essentialist assumptions. Adherents of both theories claim they have got the right mind. Rorty gets around this problem by assenting that the perspective taken is merely an instrument for coping with things rather than ways of representing their intrinsic nature. This pragmatic approach considers what various perspectives have to offer relative to the issues or problems at hand. For Cobb this suggests that sociocultural perspectives give rise to theories of conditions for the possibility of learning and cognitive theory concentrates on both what students learn and the processes by which they do so. Lave and Wenger say a “learning curriculum unfolds in opportunities for engagement in practice. Their analysis of apprenticeship in terms of legitimate peripheral participation accounts for the occurrence or failure to learn. A constructivist analysis would focus on the ways learners reorganise their activities as they participate in a learning curriculum and on the processes by which the curriculum is interactively constituted in the local situation of development interactively constitute the curriculum in the local situation of development. Cobb approves of both theses
Constructivists might argue that socioculturalists don’t adequately account for the process of learning and socioculturalists might retort that constructivist theorists fail to account for the production and reproduction of the practices of schooling and social order. Adherents to each perspective must acknowledge the potentially positive aspects of the other side. Cobb suggests that in dispensing with essentialists claims, the pragmatic approach proposes that the adoption of one perspective over another should be justified in terms of its potential to address issues whose resolution might improve the students’ education.

The sociocultural and constructivist theories each constitutes the background of the other. This implies that justifications should explicitly bring the researcher into the picture by acknowledging his interpretative activity. Pragmatic justifications reflect the researcher’s awareness that he has adopted a particular position for particular reasons. The pragmatic approach also contends that ways of coordinating perspectives should be developed while addressing specific problems.

Why no pedagogy in Ireland?

A Reflection on an essay : Why no pedagogy in England

Simon uses the term “pedagogy” in the sense of the “science of teaching”. In the educational tradition of the continent, “pedagogy” has an honoured place stemming from the work of such notables as Pestalozzi and Herbert. This is not the case in England (Ireland draws most of its ideas from England). The most striking aspect of current thinking is its eclectic nature. Simon goes on to give a brief history of why this is historically so in England.

Until the early years of this century the rational foundation for pedagogical theories – for the concept of education as a science – was associationist psychological theories about learning; however it was just at this time too that two other major influences arose that led to the demise of associationism as a major determinant of pedagogy. These new trends were:

1. The rise of philosophic idealism which denied the material basis of mind and rejected the model of human formation of the strict materialists of the late 18th century (with its emphasis on man as a passive product of external stimuli) and
2. The triumph of Darwinism with its emphasis on heredity. This also gave rise to the eugenics movement.
In the field of educational theory psychometry (mental testing) became established. The triumph of psychometry was tied in with a new stress on individualism. This spelt the death of pedagogy in England. If education cannot promote cognitive growth, as psychometry infers, its whole direction is lost.

Simon suggests that the current technological revolution makes conditions ideal for a major breakthrough in terms of pedagogy. The requirements for a new pedagogy are:
1. Recognition of the human capacity for learning – the opposite view to psychometrics.
2. Recognition that in general terms, the process of leaning is similar right across the human spectrum. It is therefore possible “to envisage a body of general principles of teaching” (Stones 1979, p.453)

Leading educational psychologists today broadly accept both of the above conditions. Bruner stated that “any subject can be taught to anybody at any age in some form that is both interesting and honest”, he was speaking in the context of a positive assessment of the human capacity for learning and deliberately pointing to the need to link psychology with pedagogy. Bruner stressed that “developmental psychology without a theory of pedagogy was as empty an enterprise as a theory of pedagogy that ignored the nature of growth”. “Man”, Bruner said, “is not a naked ape, but a cultured clothed human being, hopelessly ineffective without the prosthesis provided by culture”. The major problem humanity faces is not the general development of skill an intelligence but “devising a society that can use it wisely” (Bruner, 1972, pp 18,131, 158) Bruner was clearly concerned about social change and the contribution that pedagogical means might make of this.

We might do well to reflect that although the ideas of the associationist psychologists are no longer acceptable in the same form as originally promulgated, yet the concept of learning as a process involving the formation of new connections in the brain and higher nervous systems has not only retained its force but been highly developed by neuro-physiologists and psychologists specifically concerned with learning.

The work of Bruner and others point towards a renewed understanding of the power of education to effect human change and cognitive development and of the need for the systematisation and structuring of the child’s experiences in the learning process. From this standpoint it is necessary to form a critique of certain standpoints, especially the trend towards “child-centred theories”. This movement reached its apotheosis in the Plowden Report.

Child-centred education derives largely from the work of Froebel who held that children were endowed with certain qualities which will mature given the appropriate environment. The child develops best in a “rich” environment. The teacher should not interfere with this maturation, but act as a “guide”. The function of early education, according to Froebel is “to make the inner outer” (Froebel, 1912, p.94). Hence the emphasis on spontaneity and on stages of development, and on “readiness” – the child will learn specific skills when he is “ready”. There is a convergence between this view and the theories embodied in Intelligence Testing. (Intelligence testing also embraces the notion that the child is endowed with certain innate characteristics and that the process if education is to actualise the given potential or in the sense of Froebel to “to activate and realise the inner”. Both views deny the creative function of education, the formative power of differential educational (or life) experiences.

The theoretical or pedagogical stance of the Plowden Report represents an extension of those ideas. Plowden takes the child-centred approach to its logical limits, insisting on the principle of the complete individualisation of the teaching/learning process as the ideal. In their analysis the hereditary/environmental interactional process is interpreted as exacerbating initial differences so greatly that each child must be seen as unique and be treated as such. Matters are rendered even more complex by Plowden’s insistence that each individual child develops at different rates across three parameters, intellectual, emotional and physical. In determining her approach to each child each of these three facets must be taken into account by the teacher! The task for the teacher with an average class of 30 children is “frighteningly high” in the words of the report itself. (Plowden, 1967) By focusing on the individual child and in developing the analysis from this viewpoint Plowden created a situation from which is was impossible to derive an effective pedagogy. If each child is unique and each requires a specific pedagogical approach appropriate to her/him, the construction of an all embracing pedagogy, or general teaching principles is impossible.

Starting from the standpoint of individual differences is to start from the wrong position. To develop an effective pedagogy means starting with what children have in common as members of the human species; to establish general principles of teaching and from these to determine what modifications of practice are necessary to meet individual needs. Individual differences only become important if the pedagogical means are found not to be appropriate to a particular child or children.

The starting point for developing the curriculum for cognitive development lies in the proper definition of the teaching objectives. Vygotsky said “Pedagogy must be oriented not towards the yesterday of development but towards its tomorrow”. “What the child can do today with adult help, he will be able to do independently tomorrow” This concept of the “zone of next or potential development” implies in the educator a clear concept of the progression of learning, of the mastery by the child of increasingly complex forms.

With the advent of new technology there is the question of the individual’s responsibility for his own activities, the development of autonomy, of initiative, creativity and awareness; the need for access to knowledge and culture, the arts and literature etc. The means of promoting such human qualities cannot be left to the individual teacher, on the grounds that each individual child is unique so that the development of a pedagogy is both superfluous and impractical. The new pedagogy requires carefully defined goals, structure and adult guidance. The goals need to be structured to take account of the new technologies and the part they have to play in the potential development of the curriculum in order to allow children to use their resources to the full to achieve their potential.

State of ICT in the Irish Educational System

CESI Editorial January 2006 on the state of ICT in Irish Education

As I look back over 2005 and contemplate 2006 I cannot phrase it better than Charles Dickens and I can only reiterate that it was “the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us…”

The revised Irish Primary School Curriculum published in 1999 was a response to changing needs, particularly in the areas of science and technology. In its general aims (p.7) it states that "In a rapidly changing society effective interpersonal and intrapersonal skills and skills in communications are essential for personal, social and educational fulfillment".
ICTs are emphasised throughout the guidelines. It states in the Teacher Guidelines for English Language, for example, “Computers and other items of information and communications technologies enrich the teaching and learning of language considerably" (English Teacher Guidelines, p.91).

The primary rationale for the introduction of ICT into the Irish school system is that it should complement the achievement of broader educational aims, which affirm the professional skills of the teachers and the personal growth of students. At a national level this should mean that ICT integration correlates with wider educational aims. More importantly, at local level, ICTs must work in tandem with the implementation of school development plans. The Minister for Education and Science launched his IT initiative with the publication in 1997 of the policy document IT 2000 A Policy Framework for the New Millennium.

What saddens me enormously is the apparent lack of “joined up thinking” by the DES. With the ending of the IT 2000 initiative the educational system was left in a policy vacuum as far as ICT was concerned. When is the last time that you heard a Minister or even a high profile politician speak about the values of ICTs in education? The IT 2000 policy document was launched with the usual fanfare of trumpets and photo calls. Schools received grant money to purchase hardware and software. Since 1997/98 what funding has been received? Schools are now struggling to maintain a range of outdated and outmoded computers at a time when the DES is spending a vast amount of money introducing broadband to schools!

The general rule in other EU countries is that schools are allotted money for maintenance, purchase and repairs to computer equipment in a planned manner. Schools know in advance exactly how much money they will have to spend. In Ireland grants come sporadically, if at all! In the context of School Development Planning, how are school principals expected to plan for the integration of ICTs when they have no money and have no idea of when or if they will receive funding? Lack of vision and leadership is compounded by a lack of funding!

For six years primary teachers have invested an enormous amount of time and energy in attending in-service on the principles and methodologies of the revised curriculum. ICTs rarely get a “look in” at these inservice days. Such mention as there is will refer teachers to lists of websites, but there is scarcely an acknowledgement of the fact that ICTs are a powerful medium for collaborative activity-based teaching and learning. Inservice days thus serve to act as a negative reinforcement for the many teachers who regard ICTs as largely irrelevant to their work in the classroom.

I have pointed out already that the lack of planned funding places schools in an invidious position with regard to devising a comprehensive ICTs school policy that its inclusive nature requires. The general lack of resources is compounded by the glaring lacuna of indigenous interactive software with material specific to the Irish curriculum in the areas of history, geography, Irish language and culture. Talk of developing the knowledge society rings hollow when we fail to use the wealth of talent that exists in Ireland to produce at home indigenous content for the curricula at primary and secondary levels.

But enough about the “worst of times” and the “winter of despair”; let’s get on to the “spring of hope”! “Nature”, as my old science teacher used to say, “abhors a vacuum”, and the deafening silence emanating from the DES in terms of an ICT policy is now being actively filled by experienced practitioners, i.e. teachers. One such initiative, to be launched early in the New Year, is the Digital Schools Initiative (DSI). You can read about the DSI in an accompanying article in this newsletter by Robbie O’Leary, whose brainchild this scheme is.

CESI as a representative body of teachers who actively use ICTs on a daily basis, as a tool for teaching and learning in the classroom is also in a renewal phase. We have done a serious bit of navel gazing in the past year to see how we as an organization can actively encourage teachers, in the absence of any initiative by the DES, to use ICTs as a tool for teaching in the classroom.

CESI has decided to encourage best practice in the classroom by:

· Inviting practicing teachers from primary and post primary levels to present at our annual conference in February how they implement the curriculum in the classroom through the use of ICTs

· Reinstituting the Student Fair as an integral part of the Education Show that takes place in the RDS from 6-8 April. The Student Fair allows students from both primary and secondary schools to showcase projects they have undertaken using ICTs in a non competitive atmosphere. All participants will receive a certificate.

· Organizing a number of workshops/presentations as an integral part of the Education Show to demonstrate best practice in ICTs

· Holding urgent talks with the DES on the formulation of future policy on ICTs. We would welcome the views of teachers on any aspects of the current situation so that we will have an informed view in approaching talks with the DES.

Finally I remain sanguine that with a modicum of goodwill from all the partners in education, all of the problems that I have alluded to above can be addressed. It is past time for a well thought out policy to be put in place that addresses the pedagogical, structural and financial problems if the benefits of the technological revolution are to be reaped by the current cohort of children in our schools. If this opportunity is not grasped, then not only will we have failed our children but we will also have failed our economy and our country.

Leadership for Learning

Leadership for learning: re-engineering “mind sets” J West-Burnham

The main purpose of this article is to explore the extent to which language used to talk about leadership in schools is compatible with the idea that leaning is the core purpose of schooling. Sergiovanni (1992) expresses the notion of leadership being encapsulated in “mindscapes or theories of practice”. “Leadership is an attitude that informs behaviour rather than a set of discrete skills…”

If schools are to respond to the fundamental social and economic changes occurring they will have to re-conceptualise leadership. Much of the formulation of leadership today is still couched in 19th century ideas, expressed in terms of individuality, hierarchy and masculine language. This has led to a culture of formal accountability, control and dependency. Schools are essentially archaic in organisational terms, lacking flexibility, adaptability and the potential to be transformed. If a school is to be transformed, a person capable of personal transformation must lead it.

Experience is one of the most powerful determinants of the mindscape of leadership as expressed through a variety of key concepts like head teacher, senior management team etc. The underlying mindscape is one of hierarchy, control and linearity.

There is a tendency to express leadership in terms of “supermanagment”. Leaders are competent in a whole range of tasks; the model of headship is one of omniscience: skilled classroom practitioner plus curriculum leader; plus technical expert, plus all the manifestations associated with being the “figurehead”. The status of the teacher and the role of the national curriculum are informed through this model. In terms of content and delivery the curriculum is predicated as a control culture based on the right answers. The consequence of a hierarchically based mindset for leadership has a number of implications for the implementation of learning in schools: automatic, cohort-related, chronological progression: time-constrained compartmentalisation; assessment based on “right” answers; emphasis on the recording of information.

The emerging picture is one of uniformity, dependence and an implicit definition of learning that is essentially passive.

Schools are moving into an era with the potential to challenge every existing premise on which current notions of leadership and learning are based.

As the self-managing schools reach maturity, the significance attached to institutional leadership will increase. This is a direct function of the prevailing models of accountability, which are personal to the headteacher in terms of contractual and legal issues and specific to the institution in terms of inspection and league tables etc. The quality of decision-making at school level is increasingly important as mistakes and failures are visited directly on the institution and its members.

There is an increasing emphasis being placed on performance. The growing importance attached to results calls into question the view of learning as an iterative process.

The context of exponential social, economic and technological change means that schools as institutions must change too. If education is a function of society and society is changing, then the a priori conditions on which schooling is based has to at least be revisited and re-affirmed.

The world is not linear. It is complex and chaotic. The learning process in the dynamic of the classroom, where every child is a variable and each child is made up of a complex range of variables that determine how it might learn, is unpredictable. School is a demanding place to work because people live in a state of permanent tension between the superficial simplicity of management and the deep complexity of learning and leading.

If schools are not to become asynchronous, then the way a school is led has to become a microcosm of the learning process: in design terminology, form has to follow function. The language used to talk about leadership has to change to reflect a world in which leaders lead and learners learn. Sergiovanni (1996) expresses it thus: “The heart and soul of school culture is what people believe, the assumptions they make about how schools work and what they consider to be true and real”

Theories are mental constructs that we use to describe the reality we wish to create. The following concepts are proposed as 6 elements that contribute in a holistic and interdependent way to an understanding of the nature of leadership>

· Intellectualism
· Artistry
· Spirituality
· Moral confidence
· Subsidiarity and
· Emotional intelligence


Giroux (1988) argues for teachers to be “transformative intellectuals” because it provides a theoretical basis for examining teacher work as a form of intellectual labour. By viewing teachers as intellectuals, we can posit the idea that all human activity involves some form of thinking.

Another dimension to the concept of the “teacher-as-intellectual” is that it is the only way to develop the notion of the “reflective practitioner”.


Leaders need the qualities of vision, creativity and the ability to communicate found in artists.


A personal “world view” is the basis of self-awareness and an essential prerequisite to the process of reflection that is the key to personal learning and so to growth through transformation.

Moral confidence

This term means to act in a way that is consistent with an ethical system over time. Sergiovanni (1996) emphasise the necessity to practice leadership as a form of pedagogy. This means practice what you preach.


Subsidiarity confronts the status of headship. The validity of hierarchy and the notion of delegation are considered to be the bedrock of effective leadership. But central to the concept of Subsidiarity is the notion that trust is willingly surrendered rather than delegated institutions must be restructured so as to reinforce and institutionalise trust.

Emotional intelligence

Relationships between teacher and student, teacher and teacher, parent and teacher etc. are often expressed in emotional terms. Institutions though founded on cognition and rationality nevertheless result in most people remembering their schooling in terms of joy, happiness, fear, and apprehension. The process of transformation that schools will have to go through will probably increase the range and intensity of emotions. The development of emotional intelligence in leaders may be the most complex of all the qualities raised in this article. But imagine the benefits in a school of a head with good interpersonal skills: the ability to handle disputes. Leadership is not domination but the act of persuading people to work towards a common goal.