Education reforms needed in schools to bridge Ireland's digital-skills gap

Fundamental reforms are needed in education if the digital-skills gap in Irish society is to be bridged.

The call comes as a report reveals that 60% of schools that participated in a Google-funded programme had little access to the technology needed to make an impact in their school.

The report assessed the impact of the first year of the three-year Trinity Access 21 (TA21) programme, which aims to train teachers to teach computer science, and related topics, through a collaborative learning model.

A survey of the 400 teachers and 800 students who participated in the project found that some schools had no access to wifi or the internet.

One 500-student school had just one computer for every 20 students.

Professor in computer science and statistics at Trinity College Dublin, Brendan Tangney, said that teachers needed comprehensive resources, whole-school supports, training, and better technology to effect change in the classroom.

“What we have seen, clearly, is that with the proper training, teachers are more confident in teaching CS [computer science] and STEM [science, technology, engineering, and maths] subjects to their students,” said Prof Tangney.

Education reforms needed in schools to bridge Ireland's digital-skills gap

“Some 63% of teachers who participated in TA21 CS workshops introduced new CS content in their classroom, but they are limited in what they can achieve under current structures. Ireland is not unique in this regard — educational systems across the globe face the same challenges and, if we get it right, we are giving our young people a huge advantage in the digital age.”

Prof Tangney questioned if the Government was “just paying lip service, when it talks about delivering broadband to every school in the country and ensuring that our young people are equipped with digital skills.

Teachers also said that issues such as short class times, and a pressure to teach-to-test and prepare students for exams, limited their capacity to introduce their newfound computer science skills.

The report recommends that computer science be included on the school curriculum, as a stand-alone subject, and says that it would develop students over the long-term.

Managing director of EMEA SMB sales at Google, Fionnuala Meehan, said computer science must be introduced as a subject throughout the entire school curriculum, starting in primary school.

“At second level, CS, as a stand-alone module, must be considered, if we are to make a real difference,” she said.

“It is shocking that there are schools today without access to the internet and wifi.

“Investing in technology is just one part of the equation but, equally, we must train our teachers in CS, using 21st century teaching methods, such as experiential, technology-mediated, team-based models of teaching and learning across the curriculum.”

Ms Meehan said initiatives announced in this week’s programme for government were a step in the right direction, but she said we needed to see “more joined-up thinking across the system, if we are to effect real change in the classroom and then across our wider society”.

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