Investing in our Smart Economy – the missing connect

While reflecting on the recent pronouncements on the Smart Economy, I went back to the Building Ireland’s Smart Economy – A Framework for Sustainable Economic Renewal to look at the specific mention of ICT in schools. Basically, it mentions that the DES Strategy Report from last year “provides a clear direction to inform actions to further the integration of ICT into teaching and learning in our schools” but there would be “significant challenges in implementing some of the Report’s recommendations”. Investment in school infrastructure will be have to be “within available resources”. Other than the roll-out of 100Mb to 78 second-level schools, it doesn’t look like ICT in education is being seen as a key to future economic development.

There is a growing body of research which underlines ICT as a principal driver of economic development and social change, worldwide. In many countries, the need for economic and social development is used to justify investments in educational reform and in educational ICT. In the Intel White Paper, ICT, Education Reform,and Economic Growth: A Conceptual Framework, Robert Kozma concludes “by creating a vision and a master plan for ICT based education reform and by coordinating this with other policies and programs, the government can lay the foundation for growth-based economic and social development. By leveraging initial strengths in its education system to develop other educational components and by partnering with the private sector, the government can move toward an educational system that is based on knowledge creation and prepares their students to join the knowledge economy and information society of the 21st century”.

Kozma’s paper focuses on Finland and Singapore as exemplars of countries where ICT in education is central to economic development policy. Even in a developing country like Rwanda, President Paul Kagame was recognised last week at the World Technology Awards for his work in positioning ICT as a central aspect of Rwanda’s economic development. According to Kagame, the Government recognises that the future of their country is dependent on its investments in technology and children. We have had the privilege of doing some work recently with Rwanda and it is refreshing to see that they “get it”.
Here in Ireland, as far as ICT in education is concerned, it looks like Building Ireland’s Smart Economy will be restricted to the roll-out of 100Mb broadband to 10% of our second-level schools. The case for investment to stimulate future economic growth has yet to be heard…

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