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 25, 2006

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 Schools are now struggling to maintain a range of outdated and outmoded computers at a time when the DES is spending a vast amount of money introducing broadband to schools!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.

2 Comments:

Blogger Brian Reilly said...

Hi,

I have applied for secondary school teaching H.Dip and I have been accepted into NUI Galway.

I must reply to confirm my enrolement by the 30th of April.

If I do the course I will be qualified to teach ICT in secondary schools.

Does your blog post mean that there are very few jobs in ICT? Is it a bad idea to apply for this course?

Thanks

Brendan
(brenstein@gmail.com)

3:43 AM  
Blogger Steve Hawks said...

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11:36 PM  

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