Over the past few days, we have been looking out to see what the politicians are promising in regard to ICT in education and how they see (or don’t see) technology and e-learning enhancing the teaching and learning that’s taking place in our schools.
Fianna Fáil’s Manifesto makes no mention of education or ICT. However, their Education Policy Document highlights the €92 million investment in “ICT equipment” in schools over the past 18 months and is committed to the full implementation of the Smart Schools initiative. Their focus will continue to be on equipment and replacing satellite broadband connections in primary schools and providing 100Mbits internet to all post-primary schools. Interestingly, they do promise to provide 10,000 teacher training places on ICT courses over the next two years. The question is, what type of “teacher training” would that be and who would provide it?
The Fine Gael Manifesto on the other hand talks about “Innovation in Education”. They want to give greater autonomy to schools to incentivise innovation, new thinking and progressive approaches to learning. They will ensure that at least 90% of schools have access to fibre-powered broadband. In the past, we’ve had Magnet Schools, SIP Schools, Digital Schools, now Fine Gael want to set up a pilot programme of Learning Lighthouses. This will be a number of schools (doesn’t say how many) where students will be equipped with iPod touches, tablet PCs or other mobile devices. Teachers in these schools will be given specialist training and the schools will be used to test new online learning initiatives.
This is not to be confused with the “Digital School Resource for all”, which sounds like a new version of ScoilNet (or what many people believe ScoilNet should be). Digital School is an “online tool” which will bring together existing resources from the NCCA, the DES and other sources and will include new content developed by teachers and pupils from Lighthouse schools. Digital School will also be used to develop new, cost effective approaches to learning languages and resources for reading and maths. Fine Gael also promises to engage with the textbook publishers to develop more online learning resources and new mediums for their learning materials. A new “Technology Awards Programme” will reward students who use their interest in technology to develop individual or group enterprises.
The Labour Manifesto talks about transforming the second level curriculum to “equip young people with skills for the 21st century”. Labour promises to progressively upgrade ICT infrastructure of schools over the course of new school building and refurbishment. This investment will be maximised through the central procurement of equipment and services for schools. Schools will be enabled to ‘share’ teachers via live web casts and other technological innovations so that they can expand the curriculum and offer a wider range of subjects to pupils.
Significantly, Labour states that future investment in ICT will encompass mandatory professional development for teachers to incorporate new technologies into their teaching practice. Labour will also look at innovative ways in which teenagers at risk of leaving the school system can stay connected through the use of ICT-based distance learning. They specifically mention the iScoil project as an example of how this could be achieved.
The Green Party Manifesto promises to improve investment in ICT utilising modern broadband services and cloud computing technology to deliver greater access to all students in a more cost effective manner. That’s about it besides stating that they will continue to promote digital inclusion and literacy for all citizens. For their part, the Sinn Féin Manifesto makes no reference to the role (or not) of ICT in education.
So there it is - the next few weeks should be interesting. If you have an interest in ICT in education, perhaps a change of Government will bring about change and the focus will shift from equipment and broadband to really exploiting the potential of ICT to enhance teaching, learning and assessment.