The kids who will be tomorrow’s workforce are expected to be digitally literate and armed with critical-thinking skills and the ability to cut their way through oceans of data. Failing to equip our young people with these abilities is effectively failing the economy of tomorrow.
Martina Roth, director of global education, strategy, research and policy at Intel, who works with governments globally to transform their education systems, says that the world is undergoing a remarkable change whereby countries that were the leaders are no longer so, and countries that were in the developing world could emerge as leading the world of the future.
“Knowledge will be the most important resource any country can have, but none of the governments are debating this," she says, pointing out that some countries are putting education first. Take Jordan, where education spend is now higher than military spend.
“Why? In a time where information and communications are transforming the world, there is no education system that can cope or stay traditional.
“Students are entering the world of life, work and further education without the critical thinking skills or methods they will need," Roth warns.
Jerome Morrissey, director of the National Centre for Technology in Education (NCTE), says that a major change is under way in Irish education where methodologies like the 7Cs will be paramount.
“If you look at all the information out there on the internet alone, there’s a multiplicity of it. Democratisation of access is overwhelming. But in the minds of students they need to be able to see the woods for the trees and find the content that is relevant to them.
“There has to be a defined curriculum, a body of knowledge around subjects defined and agreed by all the stakeholders. The important thing is how do you find the resources, the digital content and the use of digital and mobile technologies to come to grips with that body of knowledge and at the same time make it interesting and exciting?
“Beyond that we need to look at the wider skills that society needs and not just a working environment; we have to find ways of working and existing in the information society. This means providing our young students with the intellectual toolkit to what they want: where to find it, and how to organise it.
“This means enabling students to work and progress at the level of their own capabilities. This means the weak students can progress while the people who are ahead aren’t bored.
“It’s a move towards personalised learning: school systems should facilitate all young people to learn and achieve at their own pace and style, work in teams and participate in a collaborative way,” says Morrissey.
The 7Cs of 21st-century learning:
- Critical thinking
- Creativity and innovation
- Cross-cultural understanding
- Computing technology
- Career learning
Paul Roche of Net Communications, a company that has been providing technology resources to schools for more than 15 years, says while the move to the 7Cs is vital, it must be gradual and with purpose.
“I think we have to be careful and conscious of traditional methodologies, too. A lot of them will still remain core.
“If you are teaching maths, the first thing you don’t do is start with a calculator – you get the kids to use their intelligence.
“But the positives of 7Cs are manifold – there’s so much information in the world, and people see this in their working lives, that it’s important to move to a project-oriented way of working, and getting this integrated into the curriculum is a good thing. The access to all these knowledge resources online is going to be very helpful but students need to be taught how to access that content but also have the skill sets to be able to weigh up all the information and decide what’s important,” explains Roche.
Creative digital content
“The digital medium facilitates students and teachers to do more and make the learning experience more engaging,” explains Fiona O’Carroll of Houghton Mifflin Harcourt (HMH) in Dublin, formerly Riverdeep.
Effectively the world’s largest educational publisher, HMH has more than 100,000 customers, generating about US$2.5bn in annual revenues.
O’Carroll says the missing piece of the puzzle in Ireland is digital content. “If you are five or six years old, you were born into the world of the iPod. You are part of a digital generation and you’re used to everything being interactive and in colour. We need to look at primary and secondary schools and realise that 21st-century skills are vastly different to what we would have grown up with.”
The backbone of technology investment in Irish schools until now has been parents, says Graham Byrne of Promethean, a distributor of whiteboards and digital content for schools.
“Many of the content providers and designers are creating content that allows children to be genuinely creative. These kids live and breathe technology and instead of learning by rote they will learn by doing.”
Byrne says that the €150m state investment signals a realisation and commitment from the Government that this is the way forward.
“It will allow our children to compete on a level playing field. It’s an essential investment in the future, but we must also be prepared for the next step.”
Greg Tierney of Steljes, a company that also provides whiteboards and digital tabletops for schools, says the investment must be taken in the context of today’s economy.
“You need to realise where Ireland is on the journey and then recognise that, to be fair, a €150m investment in the current economic climate isn’t insignificant.
“The laptops and digital projectors will enable the basic learning structures for the 21st century. Without them, we can’t even start on the journey.”