Silicon Republic journalist John Kennedy published a very interesting article on October 29th entitled, Talent & Education, where they issued a “Call for Action” in relation to the current poor state of ICT integration in our schools. The article contains the views of notable captains of Irish industry Jim O’Hara (Intel), Martin Murpy (HP), Dermot O’Connell (Dell) and Paul Rellis (Microsoft). I was heartened by their views on the current situation regarding ICT integration in Irish schools and all agreed that we need much more than just investment in ICT, though this is also essential. They call for the creation of a Plan that focuses on creating a quality education system fit for the 21st century and one where teachers and students have access to modern digital tools. Kennedy acknowledges that Schools IT2000 was “a pioneering programme … that captured teachers’ imaginations and many signed up for training” but this momentum has been lost. Others such as Seaghan Moriarty captured the frustration among principals and the need for regular investment in ICT rather than once off grants that leave schools wondering when the next one will come along? This haphazard dispersion of grants has certainly not helped the situation. When you compare Ireland to Singapore, who began investing in ICT in schools in 1997 also, we are light years behind in terms of the issue of ICT integration in schools. Singapore has continually developed their thinking around the issue and are now on the third phase of their plan – but they have continually invested strategically since 1997, unlike us.
It is heartening to see that industry, ICT Ireland to be specific, has identified that the real issue is to develop an education system fit for the 21st century, this is about much more than just computers. Dermot O’ Connell states in the article that “getting the connectivity and the technology is actually the easy part” and I agree. This has been a big part of our problem in recent years – the narrow focus on providing broadband and networking grants without providing a holistic plan for ICT integration. The evidence is there in the inspectorate’s, ICT in Schools Report, that we are not integrating ICT into the curriculum currently in Irish schools. That report, which has not been acted on, shows clearly that we need to address the issue of teacher professional development in a different way than we have done previously. We need ICT embedded into teaching, learning and assessment not as an add-on. Again ICT Ireland have got this message with a number of contributors including Martin Murphy, Paul Rellis and Dermot O’Connell all noting that there is an urgent need to invest in teacher CPD. Paul Rellis, general manager of Microsoft Ireland states that “first and foremost, the professional development of teachers is vital if we are to take the right first step forward” and I agree.
Graham Byrne (Promethean) notes that “the whole concept of education has changed. It’s not about learning by rote but by doing. It’s about accessing information, understanding a topic and engaging with it”, what we in TeachNet call 21st century skills. Finally, Jim O’ Hara, Intel general manager, states “that the successful digital economy to me would be one where the country has one of the best education systems in the world. The ingredients are good teachers and a Government strategy that makes it clear what kind of a future the kids would have, particularly in science, technology and engineering, while the business world has a role to play by embracing technology to be more agile and efficient.”
So the call to action is around developing a plan that creates a Smart Education system, one that focuses on preparing our young people for the challenges of a 21st century society, digital tools are a given in such a vision. At a time when there are rumours around funding going to schools for ICT (something to be welcomed) we also need a new vision and a new set of implementation structures to match. Schools IT2000 is twelve years old – we need new thinking and now is the time to act. Any ideas or reaction welcome.