Despite almost universal access to computers and the internet in Ireland, there have been no major improvements to pupils’ access within primary schools.
Primary school students’ use of computers in school also dropped considerably within five years, from 46% saying they used computers in school regularly in 2011 to only 23% in 2016.
This brings Ireland well below the international average, according to a new report examining information and communication technology (ICT) the trends in .
Carried out by Eemer Eivers, on behalf of the Irish Primary Principals’ Network (IPPN), the report revealed a “sharp contrast” between pupils’ digital access at home and in school.
“In the period studied, Irish home access to ICT gradually increased, and currently exceeds international averages,” said Ms Eivers.
In 2016, 10% of Irish pupils had 11 or more digital devices in their homes, she said. However, almost half of Irish pupils said that they rarely or never used computers at home for schoolwork, which compares to an international average of 23%.
“This is baffling, given our high levels of home resources,” said Ms Eivers.
New teachers — those working less than two years — were more likely to have pupils regularly use ICT in lessons, the report also found.
While this could indicate changes to teacher education or more engagement with digital technology, it could also be that younger teachers are more likely to work in urban settings, which have better connectivity, the report suggests.
Irish pupils are asked by their teachers reasonably frequently to use the internet for information retrieval such as looking up information, the report also found. However, activities such as learning how to critically appraise internet content, was less common. This is an area of concern for school leaders, according to Páiric Clerkin, IPPN chief executive.
“The rise of ‘fake news’ and the proliferation of unreliable online material means that understanding how to evaluate information sources is an essential part of digital literacy,” said Mr Clerkin.
Other issues flagged by the report include broadband connectivity, wifi coverage, as well as a lack of technical support skills.
A recent IPPN survey found that almost 45% of respondents indicated that ICT grants were spent on new computers for teachers and pupils. However, this does not address ongoing difficulties in providing technical support and maintenance.
The study, published today(FRIDAY), pre-dates increased funding from the Digital Strategy.
“While recent funding is very welcome, significant issues remain over inadequate broadband connectivity and lack of technical support,” Mr Clerkin said.
“These require a different approach and an acknowledgement of the unique challenges faced by primary schools.”