In these times of cutbacks, it was great to see that Ministers Quinn and Rabbitte are determined to implement the promise of 100Mbps broadband for all second level schools. The plan is straightforward, there are 78 schools already connected, 200 schools will be connected by next September 2012, 200 more in 2013 and the final phase of 250 schools will be connected by 2014.
There are however mixed reports as to the level of broadband usage by the 78 pilot schools. Anecdotal evidence suggests that the majority of these second-level schools have struggled to effectively utilise this important resource. It appears that the majority are using it to surf the Internet and to view YouTube videos related to the curriculum. Of course, this is valid when used appropriately, however in many schools this is the primary use for broadband, and the new learning opportunities opened up by high speed broadband are not being exploited.
High speed broadband can assist teachers to create such active learning settings where students are actively engaged. Bringing about such a change involves more than just providing a broadband connection, it involves equipping teachers with the knowledge and skills to create such active learning environments.
So how can we ensure that this investment will deliver on the promise? It is clear from past experience that presenting a school with a high speed piece of wire will not, on its own, bring about change. The broadband is only one part of the solution; principals will need support to plan, resource and implement change; teachers and students will require access to interactive curriculum content (both commercial and non-commercial); teachers will require CPD and support new methodologies and ways of teaching; and students will require access both in school and at home.
Most importantly, schools will need to set out a vision for themselves, secure buy-in from staff and show commitment resource and implement ICT integration throughout the school. This can only be done on a step by step basis and over a 3 year period.
Transformation can be challenging and involves all parties adopting a holistic approach to bring about real change. As Ministers Quinn and Rabbitte have underlined, there is recognition that change is required; particularly at second level so that we have a 21st century education system capable of meeting the demands of today’s globalised economy. There is a backdrop of support for implementing such changes at this time and the roll-out of 100 mbps broadband can play a significant role in bringing about change.