The Department of Education and Skills (DES) recently launched their Digital Strategy for Schools, 2015-2020; Enhancing Teaching, Learning and Assessment. This is the latest in a series of strategies and policy statements since December 1997 when the Department launched Schools IT2000. I have to declare up-front that I was involved the creation of both documents. So what is new, if anything, in this strategy
This strategy is based on evidence that was gathered over a period of 3 years to inform the vision and plan of action the DES will implement over the next 5 years. Dr Deirdre Butler and her colleagues in St Pats and in the ERC conducted a comprehensive Census on the level of ICT in schools and how it is being used in schools. This report found that in the main digital technology was being used in a limited way and that many teachers and principals want much more explicit help in maximising its potential. From this Deirdre and her colleagues created a consultative paper that was used to launch a period of public consultation. The Department received 124 submissions from the public arising out of this call and these views were reviewed and analysed in compiling the strategy.
The Department has articulated the following vision:
And they have developed a set of principles to guide ICT integration
These are significant in that they clearly state how ICT should be used in schools and furthermore it links ICT to areas such as Curriculum and Assessment, Teacher Professional Development, Planning and beyond.
The Strategy has been developed around 4 themes that emerged from the Census Report.
What is interesting here is that ICT Infrastructure is number 4, bottom of the list, when all too often it is number one. We clearly need to invest in ICT Infrastructure but the evidence is clear that all too often countries waste money by introducing technology into schools without proper planning. This was a key finding in the recent OECD report, Students Computers and Learning. This report called for a new approach in relation to ICT in schools and this strategy attempts to do that.
So what is new and different this time around?
Well firstly the DES is going to address the issue of ICT integration. Everybody uses this term when talking about bringing digital technologies into schools but very few departments actually define what it is. So this around the DES are going to articulate what is meant by ICT integration so schools, support services, the inspectorate and many others are clearer on what is expected of them. The UNESCO ICT Competency Framework for Teachers will be used as a starting point for this work. It is hoped that this will help schools better understand how ICT can be used in teaching, learning and assessment and that it can also inform those involved in teacher professional development to design a more varied set of learning experiences for teachers and principals.
The Strategy recognises that ICT integration is complex and that the system needs to develop the capacity and capability of all teachers to achieve it over time. Therefore all teachers are going to have to consider how ICT can support teaching, learning and assessment in their classrooms. It is no longer enough for one or two teachers to consider this issue but now all teachers must consider how best to use ICT. At the launch a 17 year old spoke of how digital technology is a part of his life outside of school but as yet he is restricted from using these powerful tools to support his learning in school. Digital technology is all around us and it is transforming how we live and how we work, yet all too often it is not being actively used in schools.
One of the other key differences for me in this Strategy is the role of DES. On this occasion the entire DES has been consulted widely on the document is linked to other key changes that are underway or planned within the DES. ICT should no longer be viewed as the responsibility of one unit or one section but it is something that all in DES, from Secretary General, down need to consider. This should have an impact in future policies in other areas of the DES.
So the Strategy is launched and it maps out a path for next five years. Ultimately, it is only words on paper and the real test will be in how well the Strategy is implemented. The successful implementation of the Strategy will require leadership from all in the system. We should consider the young children who today are in Junior Infants and the world they will enter when they are Sixth Year, some 14 or 15 years down the line. What tools they will be using to support their learning and how can be prepare them to succeed in the world beyond school? Digital technology will clearly be a part of their lives, as it is for many today, and we in education need to consider how best to use these tools to enhance our teaching, learning and assessment practices. Let the next phase of the journey begin and let’s hope that we make progress on this