Largest Ever Investment in Digital Technology in Schools.

Minister for Education and Skills, Jan O’Sullivan, TD, has announced a €210m investment in digital technology in schools. It is the largest ever investment as of yet. It lists WiFi as a priority for schools, as well as the wider use of digital devices in classrooms. The funding will drive the five year Digital Strategy for Schools (2015-2020) which the Minister launched today at the Mercy Secondary School in Inchicore, Dublin.

At the launch today Minister O’Sullivan said, “Giving our students the opportunity to develop 21st century skills is a priority.  Technology is embedded in all aspects of our lives, and is bringing our society new advantages and solutions every day.This five year strategy will achieve our goal of allowing all students to develop 21st century skills…The strategy is a comprehensive and coherent roadmap to prepare schools, teachers and students to take advantage of the vital role that technology will play in the years and decades ahead.”

I am really happy that the Minister has realised the impact technology has on our world and the even bigger impact it is set to have in our future. It is of the utmost importance that we prepare our students for the future. Technology is everywhere. Even one and two year olds know how to use technology.

Among the key points of the Digital Strategy are:

·       1.  Dedicated multi-annual funding to schools to invest in technology

·        2. Build on the successful roll-out of high-speed broadband to every second-level school by investing in high-speed wifi networks in every school

·       3. Integration of digital skills in the curriculum and in assessment

·        4.Develop opportunities for students to take an in-depth ICT course at Leaving Cert, as well as embedding digital skills within other subjects

·        5.Promotion of the use of e-portfolios at primary and post-primary level

·        6.Provide enhanced digital content to schools, including working with cultural institutions, sporting bodies and other to expand this range of resources

·        7.Embed ICT skills as part of initial teacher education and ongoing training for teachers

·        8. Work with stakeholders to promote safe and responsible use of the internet and social media, including providing new resources to schools to better prevent cyber-bullying

The Minister said “I want to encourage all teachers to use technology in the classroom to bring learning to life for students; to give learners the tools to collaborate and to examine engaging problems; to research and analyse information; and to use digital resources to communicate their ideas and to share what they create with others beyond the walls of their classroom or school.”

The Strategy is the result of extensive national and international research. The Strategy involved extensive consultation and reflects the views of education stakeholders including those of students.  It really suits the New Junior Cert. It is clear to see the Statements of Learning and the Key principles. The scheme has been developed around four key themes:

1.Teaching

2.Learning and Assessment using ICT

3. Teacher Professional Learning, Leadership, Research and Policy

4. ICT Infrastructure.

The Minister stated “We are at a turning point in the use of technology in teaching and learning.  The technological landscape is unrecognisable from where we were even a decade ago.  Digital technologies are now part of everyday life.  We must equip our learners to be able to live and work in this rapidly changing world.”

Minister White welcomed the announcement, saying “I am delighted that my own Department has been in a position to support the transition to digital technology in teaching and learning through investment in high speed broadband connectivity to every second-level schools. We have already seen the successful rollout of 100Mbps connectivity to some 780 post-primary and special schools with post-primary students, as well as 20 Education Centres. The National Broadband Plan (NBP) is delivering access to high-speed broadband to every home, school and business in Ireland by 2020 and we intend to move to formal procurement by end 2015. The combination of commercial and State investment in the NBP will help to provide access to cost-effective, high-speed connectivity to rural primary schools that currently cannot access reliable broadband.”

The government are finally modernising the curriculum by embedding digital learning. This will be a very important part of the Strategy and particularly so in the Senior Cycle.

Recognising the importance of progression to further and higher education, the Strategy will support the development of opportunities for learners to undertake in-depth study of ICT in the Senior Cycle. The Strategy will also impact on the continuum of teacher education from initial education through induction and continuing professional development for teachers. CPD is a major element of teaching today. Teachers must constantly improve in order to be the best teacher that they can be.

O’Sullivan has said it (the Digital Strategy) aims to bring all schools up to a good standard. However,  I would like to point out that it is not yet known which ones will get a share of the funding. Why not?

“We are going to take the time next year really to figure out what is best, I mean different schools are in different places,” Minister O’Sullivan

“Some of them do not have high speed broadband at all, others do, some have a lot of IT equipment, others do not. So we are going to work out what each school needs. We don’t have a set amount for each school at this point.” I hope they pick the schools that really need it. From going around to schools, I have seen the sheer difference with some schools having loads of technology and some schools literally having none. We need to figure out a way so that there will be an even balance.

Minister O’Sullivan said “Technology has transformed our lives, and has the potential to dramatically change the way teachers teach and how students learn.  It can support a dramatic move away from teacher directed learning, to allow a greater focus on active learning, which a majority of teachers have made clear they would support. The 200 million funding we have secured will ensure we can provide the necessary support to schools to enable them to transform teaching, learning and assessment in our classrooms.’

She is right. We are transforming learning. Gone are the days of being spoon-fed. Teachers now let students form opinions of their own. Teachers do not teach just for the exam any more. They are teaching students for their future. They are showing how to think and be creative.

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