Schools need ‘to raise use of computer’

Schools are failing to match students’ rising home access to computers and the internet, an international report reveals.

While more than one- in-three Irish teens’ homes now have at least three computers, nearly half do not get to use the internet on a typical school day, according to data from the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD).

As the Government waits to publish a delayed digital strategy for schools, the report reveals the average 15-year-old spent just 16 minutes online in an average day at school in 2012. This is well below the OECD average of 25 minutes, as counterparts in Austria, Australia, Greece, and Hungary spend half an hour to an hour a day online at school.

The 46% of Irish teenagers who do not use the internet at school in a typical day is more than in most developed countries, according to answers given when taking the OECD’s 2012 Programme for International Student Assessment tests in maths, reading and science.

A report last year showed Irish students perform poorly by comparison with others on computer-based maths tests, ranking 19th out of 32 countries.

The new data shows that computers were used in a maths lesson for just over one-in-six Irish students in the previous month, compared to 31% of students across the OECD.

There was a computer for every two or three Irish students in 2012 — about average in OECD countries.

While fewer than one third of Irish students browse the net at school at least once a week, 45% do so for schoolwork at home weekly — up from fewer than 30% in 2009.

Schools need ‘to raise use of computer’

“There is some evidence that the implementation of Project Maths has resulted in increased usage of computers in the classroom,” said Gerry Shiel of the Educational Research Centre at St Patrick’s College in Dublin.

“But the OECD report suggests that usage is often confined to the teacher, and students only have limited opportunities to use computers in their maths classes, this needs to be addressed.”

Previous education and communications ministers Ruairi Quinn and Pat Rabbitte opened consultations in late 2013 on a schools digital strategy, which Education Minister Jan O’Sullivan promised in the near future last December. It is understood it has been finalised for some time, but its publication awaits Government sign-off on each department’s five-year capital budget.

Although the proportion of teenagers’ homes with three computers or more rose from just over one-in-five to 36% between 2009 and 2012, it is well below the 43% average across more than 60 countries. Parental controls also appear to be limiting time spent online by teens, only 3.4% of them reporting they spend at least six hours on the internet outside school on a typical weekday.

But that small group is at risk of being less engaged with school, as 40% of them arrived late in the two weeks before the OECD programme tests, compared to one third who spend two to six hours a day on the internet, and just 23% who are online for less than an hour on week days when they are not at school.


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