Principals want tech training and faster internet

High-speed internet, training for teachers and accessible technical support will be key features of a government plan to make technology more a part of daily classroom activity.

These are also among the priorities of second-level principals who took part in a census of information and communications technology (ICT) that has informed the Digital Strategy for Schools due to be published soon by Education Minister Jan O’Sullivan.

Department of Education secretary general Seán Ó Foghlú told school managers yesterday that the potential of ICT to enhance student learning will underpin the strategy. But details of what investment will go into the plan have yet to be finalised as the department awaits government approval of its capital budget for the next five years.

Mr Ó Foghlú revealed, however, that it will involve the provision of online and face-to-face training for serving teachers, and the integration of ICT into pre-service teaching degrees. The census among second-level staff found that 89% of principals saw increased student interest arising from use of ICT, but insufficient technical support, ageing devices and inadequate time to plan and prepare were seen as the biggest obstacles to its effective use.

Principals listed high-quality broadband connectivity and teachers’ access to equipment to support learning as the biggest priorities, both issues singled out by almost two-thirds of them. But there was also strong demand for more assistance with internet safety and related issues, and for high-quality school-wide wireless networking.

Joint Managerial Body (JMB) president, Fr Paul O’Connell, said schools need to be given the tools to get on with the job, particularly in light of the heavy dependence on technology of junior cycle reforms being voted on by teachers this month.

“It makes absolutely no sense to have a wonderful digital strategy document with no commitment from Government to resource it,” he said.

While 100 megabit-per-second (Mbps) broadband should now be in place at all 720 second-level schools, the strategy is unlikely to commit to universal high-speed internet for all 3,300 primary schools, given the economics of servicing a wider mix of locations and sizes. But it is expected that efforts to significantly improve broadband services for primary classes will form a key aspect of any investment to be announced with details of the strategy in the coming weeks.

It has been devised after public consultations and views being taken from young people, teachers and parents, as well as the schools census due to be published later this month. Mr Ó Foghlú said the strategy will set out a five-year programme to maximise use of digital technologies.

“This strategy will contain actions that will facilitate schools and teachers in adapting new methodologies for teaching and engaging with students using ICT in a seamless way in teaching, learning and assessment,” he said.

The details emerge after an Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) report this week revealed very low use of ICT and internet in Irish schools compared to other developed countries. But it also showed that countries which have invested heavily in schools’ ICT have not seen noticeable improvements in teenagers’ results in international, reading, maths and science tests.


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