Ireland’s Digital Schools of Distinction programme could set the standard for Europe

25 Sep 20131 Share

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Student Abdul Ikolaba 'digitised' by classmates from 5th class, Sacred Heart Senior National School, Killinarden, Tallaght (photo by Naoise Culhane)

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A flagship award programme to promote, recognise and encourage best practice use of technology in primary schools in Ireland could become the benchmark for other European countries.

The Digital Schools of Distinction programme was launched today, Wednesday, by the Minister for Education and Skills Ruairí Quinn, TD.

Primary schools across the country are encouraged to sign up for the programme, which will help them to assess their progress and provide practical support, while also recognising those schools that excel in using technology in the classroom.

These schools that meet the criteria for Digital Schools of Distinction status will be awarded a Digital Schools Classroom Kit, which will include a HP laptop with Windows 8, Office 365 and educational apps. They will also be granted access to education ICT specialists.

Those that do not meet the criteria will be given access to the tools and support needed to improve, and they can also see examples of best practice in other schools through the Digital Schools website.

The aim is to have 500 primary schools participating in the programme in its first full year.

Catching up with the kids

In his opening address at the Digital Ireland Forum: Global 2.0 this month, Minister for Training and Skills Ciarán Cannon, TD, told delegates that Irish schoolchildren are waiting for the education system to catch up. The use of technology in Irish primary schools has come on in leaps and bounds in the past 10 years and already ranks higher than the EU average, however, the standard can vary greatly from one school to the next.

“One of the action areas identified under the DAE [Digital Agenda for Europe] is enhancing digital literacy, skills and inclusion through mainstreaming e-learning in national policies for the modernisation of education and training. The Digital Schools of Distinction advances both the literacy and ICT agenda and can make a practical contribution to helping schools make the most of their digital capabilities,” said Quinn at the launch in Sacred Heart SNS in Tallaght, Dublin.

From left: Liam O'Shea, Microsoft Ireland MD Cathriona Hallahan, HP Ireland MD Martin Murphy, Minister for Education and Skills Ruairí Quinn, TD and Killian Byrne in Sacred Heart Senior National School, Killinarden, Tallaght (photo by Naoise Culhane)

From left: Liam O’Shea, Microsoft Ireland MD Cathriona Hallahan, HP Ireland MD Martin Murphy, Minister for Education and Skills Ruairí Quinn, TD and Killian Byrne in Sacred Heart Senior National School, Killinarden, Tallaght (photo by Naoise Culhane)

The programme will be supported by HP Ireland and Microsoft Ireland for the next five years through a financial commitment of €300,000 in the first year, as well as the provision of practical support and resources. Should the programme prove successful, these tech companies will support rollout in other European countries.

“Getting education and skills right is core to investment and job creation, and while Ireland already performs well in comparison to other European countries in terms of the integration of ICT into the curriculum, there is still room for improvement and an opportunity for Ireland to differentiate itself in this area,” said Martin Murphy, managing director of HP Ireland.

Elaine Burke is managing editor of Siliconrepublic.com

editorial@siliconrepublic.com