With growing emphasis on the use of computers and other gadgets in the classroom, teachers and schools have been critical of the lack of public investment in the latest technology. The issue is the subject of a Government strategy which invited submissions late last year, but the Digital Schools of Distinction programme is encouraging the best practices already in use in some schools.
More than 650 primary schools have signed up to the initiative, which provides not just a free laptop and software from supporters HP Ireland and Microsoft Ireland, but a range of education apps for use online and access to education IT specialists. The validation process has already been completed by 20 schools, highlighting some innovative approaches from schools and teachers.
It is hoped that the integration of technology into everyday teaching will inspire other schools as they go through the process, which leads to a Digital Schools of Distinction status award from the Department of Education.
“We are keenly aware that technology is playing an ever more important role in education and we want to be at the forefront of the movement to integrate ICT successfully in the classroom,” said Tom Roche, principal of Knockaclarig National School in Tralee, Co Kerry, which just received its distinction status.
The department also supports the project along with the Irish Primary Principals’ Network, Irish National Teachers’ Organisation, and other partners. Education Minister Ruairi Quinn said effective use of ICT for teaching and learning is a key policy objective, central to key reforms in the national literacy and numeracy strategy, and he encouraged more schools to sign up and benefit from the support and expertise on offer.
Schools can slash up to 15% off their electricity bills by joining a discount scheme negotiated by a government agency.
However, hundreds of the 1,700-plus schools included in the tender process by the Office of Government Procurement have yet to complete the contract needed to make the savings. Education Minister Ruairi Quinn urged them to do so as soon as possible, as only about 1,000 have sent back the contracts so far.
The initiative saw the OGP, part of the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform, seek tenders from electricity suppliers to supply power to more than 1,700 schools and secured rates that are estimated to allow for overall savings of €1m. While average reductions could be around 10%, schools that change the loading on their electricity connection could make bigger savings and the potential to do so may be identified in future analysis of their electricity use.
“Because of our economic situation, we have unfortunately had to ask all schools to do more with less — but through a very simple process of filling in and returning a form, schools will make large savings on energy costs and can use this money in other areas,” said Mr Quinn.
All schools are getting 1% less from the Department of Education this year — on top of rolling cuts in the past three years — in capitation grants used for energy, insurance, and other running costs. However, some schools using an assessment and advice service run by Sustainable Energy Authority of Ireland have already cut almost their energy bills by almost a fifth in months by simply changing their behaviour in relation to power, heating, and lighting.
They are among 260 schools SEAI has worked with on the web-based Energy in Education initiative to help make energy savings with little or no capital spend. It helps reduce a school’s environmental impact and also teaches students about good energy use.