Broadband in schools gets an A but ICT ‘could do better’

27 Oct 2016

Teachers point out that while the broadband is good, the rest of the infrastructure and leadership around ICT is lacking. Image: ESB International/Shutterstock

Teachers across Ireland have given broadband top marks, but warn that ICT infrastructure and leadership are failing to keep up with the rest of the class.

In 2012, the Government announced a decision to expand its Broadband for Schools programme to all 780 post-primary schools across Ireland, giving each school 100Mbps connectivity.

But still on the wrong side of the digital divide, and awaiting intervention from the oft-delayed National Broadband Plan, are some 1,522 primary schools (40pc of primary schools in the country).

Future Human

But for those who attain the precious 100Mbps connectivity, teachers in these schools are giving it top marks, according to a new report by the Economic and Social Research Institute (ESRI).

‘Developing leadership at both national and school levels to support staff in responding to the changes involved, in addition to providing the required infrastructural supports, is critical to cultivating successful use of ICT in classrooms’

The report found that broadband provision made a big difference to the quality and use of the internet in schools and that staff had a very positive reaction to the development, with many reporting that it had a significant impact on teaching and learning.

However, participants reported a number of persistent challenges that are likely to hinder further progress. These are largely centred on requirements for investment in infrastructure, enhanced technical support and accessible professional development for teachers.

The Minister for Communications Denis Naughten, TD, agreed that ICT needs to keep up with broadband but suggested that the introduction of computer science as a Leaving Cert subject could be a game-changer.

“The classroom needs to reflect the reality of the world outside and a key priority for me as Minister for Communications is to build on the State’s investment in broadband connectivity to every second level school in Ireland, by continuing to actively support the transition to digital technology in teaching and learning,” he said.

Leadership critical to ICT succeeding in schools

The picture appears disjointed and, in some cases, a lack of leadership in implementing the changes required is telling.

Only some schools have adopted a whole-school approach to integrating ICT in classrooms or implemented formal policies.

ICT coordinators expressed interest in playing a greater role in leading pedagogical change, by coordinating ICT integration and promoting efficient use of technology throughout their schools.

But schools also reported the considerable amount of work involved in maintenance and upkeep of the technology.

ICT coordinators reported that their time and resources allowed for daily maintenance of computing facilities only.

While high-speed broadband has resolved the issue of an unreliable internet connection, other infrastructural issues remain in the form of internal school network reliability, ICT equipment quality and the availability of online resources.

The report found that while teacher’s engagement in ICT training and professional development varied across schools, many teachers need support – not just in learning how to use the technologies, but also to help them make judgements about the most appropriate technologies to use.

Students reported a lighter school bag and easy access to information for project work among the benefits of using personal devices for school work. However, they voiced dissatisfaction with the quality of some educational apps, in addition to the high cost of purchasing and maintaining such devices.

“The report finds broadly positive attitudes to increased usage of ICT in the classroom and evidence of a growing place for technology in schools,” said Seán Lyons, associate research professor at the ESRI and an author of the report.

“Developing leadership at both national and school levels to support staff in responding to the changes involved, in addition to providing the required infrastructural supports, is critical to cultivating successful use of ICT in classrooms,” he added.

Education and Skills Minister Richard Bruton, TD, echoed Naughten’s view that with the right courses being taught in schools, we can contribute to a greater focus on ICT in education and a more holistic approach in schools.

“I have asked the NCCA to consider how coding can be introduced into the primary school curriculum. Coding is already a short course at junior cycle and the NCCA is considering the introduction of computer science as a full leaving certificate subject,” Bruton added.

John Kennedy is a journalist who served as editor of Silicon Republic for 17 years