On March 4th 2019, the third installment under the Digital Strategy for Schools (2018-2019) was announced. This grant funding for the purchase of ICT infrastructure is intended to enable schools, both Primary and Post Primary, to embed the use of digital technology in teaching and learning.
Since the 9th of January, 2019 the Department of Education has released 24 Whole School Evaluation (WSE) reports from Primary schools on its website. During these inspections, the inspectorate evaluate the quality of the school management and leadership, the quality of teaching, learning and assessment, and the school’s own planning and self-review. Not all WSE inspections follow the same process; sometimes the inspection has a subject or curriculum focus and at other times, they concentrate on a range of different lessons across a wide range of subjects. (from education.ie)
Since all of these inspections would have taken place in late 2018 all of the schools would have received ICT grant funding in the school years 2016 – 2017 and 2017-2018. I looked at the 24 reports to see what, if any, references were made to the use of ICT within the schools that had been inspected. It was troubling to find that out of the 24 reports, only 9 have any reference to ICT or digital learning.
They participate enthusiastically in lessons with a variety of materials and resources, including some considered use of information and communications technology. The progression of digital learning has been identified as a priority by the school and will further enhance the learning experience for pupils.
Commendable examples of paired and small-group learning activities are noted, including projects involving the effective use of technology.
Pupils demonstrate highly commendable learning outcomes in Mathematics and the introduction of coding would further enhance their learning.
Pupils enjoy a broad range of curricular and co-curricular learning experiences that facilitate
their holistic development; regular engagement in digital learning is not yet a feature of their
learning experience. Using computers and technology is not yet a feature of pupils’ learning experiences. Digital learning experiences should be provided for all pupils.
They can digitally present to their peers and teachers in a capable manner, an experience which demonstrates their skills and their broad knowledge of the various subjects. Pupils’ digital skills are being very well developed. In the questionnaire returns, most pupils agreed that they are afforded opportunities to use computers during some lessons. During the lessons observed, pupils used digital learning technology (DLT) to foster and demonstrate their research, analytical, creative and presentation skills.
In responses to Inspectorate questionnaires, a significant minority of pupils indicated that information and communications technology (ICT) and group work are not used regularly. It is recommended that more regular ICT opportunities and group work be provided for pupils.
Pupils use concrete materials, mathematical games and digital technologies productively during station teaching to explore number concepts.
They have also achieved a School Digital Award.
Pupils use information and communicative technology (ICT), project work, field trips and a
range of concrete materials to support their learning.
This was by no means a scientific review of these reports; it is, of course, totally valid to believe that there were lots of ICT activities in the majority of these schools and that these activities had not been reported by the inspectors. However on the other hand it is also totally valid to believe that because ICT activities were mentioned in 9 of the reports that, if it had been a noticeable factor in the other 15 schools, it would have been noted. The fact that in one WSE report the inspectors highlighted that the use of computers and technology is not yet a feature of pupils’ learning experiences is deeply troubling. After all of the investment in ICT and all of the CPD training in ICT made possible by the work of PDSTTiE, Education Centers, TeachNet and a myriad of other stakeholders I find it hard to comprehend that this is the case in a school in 2019!
It’s a great pity that these WSE inspections do not take an inventory of the ICT equipment that is available within the schools. An obvious concern would also be ‘has the Digital Grant been utilised for its intended purpose’? There have been several instances in recent times where schools have been required to repay various grants, not necessarily those for ICT purposes, because they were not spent on the intended purpose of the grant. The role of the Financial Support Services Unit has been expanded and for Primary Schools 2018 – 2019 is the first year that annual accounts will be submitted to the FSSU to fulfil obligations under Section 18 of the Education Act 1998. The DES has prescribed that the school’s financial year will be a 12 month period commencing on the 1 st September to 31st August. So all Primary schools will have to account for all grants and funds received including the grants made under the Digital Strategy for Schools.
Finishing on a couple of positive notes! It really is heartening to read that, at least in one school, digital learning has been prioritised and that ICT and the use of digital resources to enhance teaching and learning is alive and well in some schools. A random look at some other WSE reports from previous years threw up this excellent feedback – “Teachers show exemplary skill and expertise in using ICT as a teaching tool and as a highly effective learning mechanism!”