Technology in Irish Education
I read a very interesting article recently on Silicon Republic written by the journalist John Kennedy. It was a thought-provoking article and it caught my attention because I had been involved with some of the ICT initiatives mentioned in the piece. The opening sentence of the article provides a clear synopsis for anyone who hasn’t read it yet “The constant stop-start-stop cycle of failure that defines technology in Irish education needs to be replaced by a long-term, sustainable vision for the future.”
After reading the article for a second time I was drawn to one particular sentence. John wrote “The constant cycle of failure of various IT schools initiatives needs to be replaced by a permanent policy that sets the standard.” Having used the word “failure” twice in relation to historical IT schools initiatives John then went on to ask, “Where is the visionary thinking?”
I strongly believe that we already have had the “visionary thinking”! The “broken and disillusioned teachers” that John mentions from the IT 2000 initiative were the visionaries. Their work, under the umbrella” of S.I.P – Schools Integration Project, was creative and inspirational. The focus of SIP was to foster whole school development in relation to ICT integration by establishing pilot projects in a number of schools working in partnership with education centres, the community, industry, businesses and third level institutions (copied from S.I.P website >About). Their projects, including all the warts, speed bumps and brick walls, using any reasonable assessment criteria, were successful and clearly showed the great potential that ICT had then and still has now, when effectively used within the school setting.
John’s perceived failure, I believe wasn’t a failure of the initiative per se but rather a failure to follow up on and expand on the work of the projects in a clear and sustained manner. John’s perceived failure should not be laid at the feet of these dedicated teachers. I don’t believe for one minute that these teachers became broken as many of them continue today to champion ICT projects within their school community! Many current members of C.E.S.I (Computer Education Society of Ireland) were involved in S.I.P projects and their ICT work is a continued source of pride and professionalism. (It is well worth taking some time to read an objective study (Sharing Innovative Practice) of many of the S.I.P projects by Dr. Conor Galvin, Director of Graduate Studies at the College of Human Sciences at UCD.)
However I agree with John about the disillusioned bit! I believe, the disillusionment came from the apparent lack of interest in and understanding of the S.I.P initiative and the work of these teachers by policy and decision makers at that time. The visionary thinkers were at the coalface, directly involved with the realities of school life and the realities of struggling with all of the ingredients that make up ICT in schools. They were at the mercy of the vagaries of the political system and economic realities of recent years. However it is these very same visionaries that will “step up to the mark” and embrace the new Digital Strategy for Schools policy document when it hopefully becomes a reality. This document has already been written about in a TeachNet blog. A recurring key concept in this document is the complete integration of ICT into teaching and learning; “ICT becoming embedded into the school culture.”
We don’t need to reinvent the wheel! We just need effective and sustained support for the enthusiastic teachers who use ICT on a daily basis to ensure that the pupils of today will be able to quickly adapt to the demands of tomorrow’s workplace.