Adjournment Debate - ICT in Schools.

Thursday, 5 November 2009

Dáil Eireann Debate
Vol. 693 No. 3

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Deputy Thomas McEllistrim: Information on Tom McEllistrim  Zoom on Tom McEllistrim  A recent evaluation report prepared by the Department’s inspectorate based on case studies in more than 50 schools, inspections in more than 180 schools and survey evidence from almost 1,400 teachers, 900 principals and 900 students, studied the impact of ICT on teaching and learning in Irish primary and post-primary schools.

The report noted the significant improvements in reducing the student to computer ratio since the commencement of specific ICT funding initiatives for schools. It found that in the main schools make effective use of ICT grants provided by the Department to develop their ICT systems. It also shows that most schools have an ICT plan and an acceptable use policy in place. The report also indicated that the majority of teachers use ICT in lesson planning and preparation and acknowledges that large numbers of teachers are participating in continuing professional development courses in ICT.

The inspectorate’s evaluation, however, recorded limited integration of ICT in the classroom at primary level. The evaluation found the use of ICT in primary schools is currently focused on developing students’ numeracy, reading and writing skills and that it is also used in social, environmental and scientific education. The inspectors recommend wider use of ICT across the curriculum. If we are to successfully meet the challenge of providing our school-going children with the skills they require for the future, we must invest now in transforming schools into e-learning environments.

Apart from the investment in broadband for schools some years ago, the last major investment in ICT was during the IT 2000 project and the recent announcement by the Minister. Many computers in schools were too old by the time broadband was introduced and are certainly long past their sell-by date by now.

We know the importance of ICT back-up in this House but our primary schools, where a teacher could be dealing with up to 30 pupils, have no technical backup. In Ireland, we have many of the most important ICT companies and we have not sufficiently tapped into the partnership possibilities that exist with them. ICT equipment is getting less expensive, as is software. Schools need new ICT equipment, adequate broadband, technical support services and pedagogical guidance. There is an immediate need to provide new equipment and technical [949]support. The strategy group recommends that the requirement be met by front-loading investment in these areas in the first three years of the national development plan period.

Achieving a desirable level of ICT usage in all schools depends on a number of critical, interconnected factors — teacher education and professional development to leverage the benefits of new learning technologies; the ready availability of appropriate digital content and content tools; sufficient computers and support ICT equipment in schools; adequate and robust broadband provision; technical support and maintenance of a high standard; structures to implement and support the investment; and support for effect-focused and learning age suitable ICT equipment.

It is recognised that schools will vary in their requirements for and expectations of ICT. To identify desirable baseline levels of ICT provision and equipment for schools, the strategy group recommends that schools adopt the recommended ICT configurations for the development of e-learning strategies and their future implementation. All classrooms should be networked to include between five and eight service points of access, with two at the teacher’s desk and four to six for the students. Ideally schools should work towards eventually having a 5:1 pupil teacher computer ratio in classrooms.

To facilitate greater ICT integration at primary level, computers should be located in classrooms rather than in dedicated computer rooms. Large primary schools may choose to maintain their computer rooms. At post-primary level, a mix of locations is appropriate and should include both classroom computers and computer rooms. All classrooms should have a fixed digital projector and teaching computer with a wireless keyboard and wireless mouse. All computers in the schools should be networked and broadband enabled. Ready access should be available to a range of digital devices such as digital cameras and digital video cameras.

Access should be available to a mobile laptop trolley supporting between ten and 30 laptops capable of linking to the school network and the Internet, one for small schools and two for large schools. There should be a mobile multimedia station in every school with integrated digital media features to enable content creation, editing and production, recording and duplication. Resource rooms and learning support areas should be equipped with networked internet-ready computers and digital projectors, where appropriate.

Minister for Transport (Deputy Noel Dempsey): Information on Noel Dempsey  Zoom on Noel Dempsey  As a former Minister for Education and Science, I am delighted to respond to this Adjournment matter on behalf of my colleague, the Minister for Education and Science, Deputy Batt O’Keeffe. I thank the Deputy for raising the matter as it provides us with an opportunity to outline the Department’s commitment to the ICT in schools programme.

The Minister agrees that ICT skills are increasingly critical for full participation in our social, cultural, recreational and working lives. ICT has been identified as a core component of the knowledge society and is recognised as a key tool for the improvement of teaching and learning. Where ICT is used innovatively and integrated into the curriculum, the learning experience can be more enriching, collaborative and personally gainful.

ICT enables teachers to bring lessons to life in new ways, to motivate learners and to find new ways of reaching students with special educational needs. The Department’s policy on ICT in schools seeks to promote the integration of ICT in teaching and learning across the curriculum and the acquisition of ICT skills by students to enable them to participate in the knowledge society.

Since the Department’s ICT in schools programme commenced in 1998, almost €209 million was invested in the programme up to the end of 2008, comprising €121 million capital investment and €88 million current investment. The programme has addressed four broad areas, the [950]provision of essential ICT infrastructural networking within schools, the provision of access to broadband connectivity to schools, up-skilling teachers’ ICT skills and integrating ICT within the curriculum and providing curriculum relevant digital content and software.

In addition to the capital funding provided by the ICT in schools programme, additional funding for ICT is provided through the Department’s school building programme. While new post-primary school buildings projects have included ICT equipment budgets for some time, similar arrangements were introduced at primary level last year. In 2008, equipment grants of €2.3 million were provided to new post-primary school building projects while €2.2 million was provided to 72 primary schools where a newly constructed school or large scale extension reached practical completion.

Last Monday, the Minister announced grants of €4.2 million in respect of 383 primary schools where construction work was completed in 2008 and 2009. The grants are based on an amount of €5,000 in respect of each occupied permanent classroom built in 2008 and 2009 and will enable the school to buy computer hardware, software and digital equipment. In addition, the grant scheme for minor works to national school properties includes ICT equipment within the range of approved school expenditure.

Disadvantaged schools have benefited from the €3.4 million ITC grant scheme for delivering equality of opportunity for schools, DEIS, from the Dormant Accounts (Educational Disadvantage) Fund. A further €1.5 million fund is being supported from the Dormant Account Fund to assist up to 100 DEIS schools achieve digital schools status.

The ICT strategy group report, Investing Effectively in ICT in Schools, which was published in July 2008 provides a clear direction to inform actions to further the integration of ICT into teaching and learning in our schools. The framework for sustainable economic renewal, building Ireland’s smart economy, reiterates Government policy to enhance the role of ICT in the educational system, working in partnership with industry, to invest further in the provision of equipment and connectivity.

Earlier this year, the Minister set up the joint advisory group, comprising members of ICT Ireland, the Telecommunications and Internet Federation, the Irish Software Association, the Department of Education and Science and the National Centre for Technology in Education, to explore how best to do this having regard to the recommendations set out in the strategy group report. The main recommendations of the report focus on the provision of up-to-date ICT equipment and digital content in all schools, access to an appropriately specified, cost-efficient broadband service to all learning areas within the school, and a functional and dependable ICT infrastructure with access to appropriate technical support and maintenance to sustain this quality of service.

This joint advisory group which commenced its work last March signifies a strong partnership between industry and the education sector, with the shared objective of supporting children’s developmental potential by enhancing the role of ICT in the educational system. The group’s report is being finalised and the Minister will consider its recommendations in the context of existing policy and funding.

I thank the Deputy for raising this issue and assure him that the Department is committed to the objectives of the smart economy whereby use of ICT in schools will be enhanced through working in partnership with industry to invest in ICT equipment and connectivity.

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