The Programme for Government sets out a number of ambitious policy objectives in terms of optimising and integrating ICT into our education system to deliver 21st-century schools, with the main immediate priority being the integration of ICT in teaching and learning across the curriculum, in addition to investing in broadband development, thereby ensuring schools have access to modern, high-speed connectivity.
The success of the 100Mbps pilot project in the 78 selected second-level schools provides us with tangible evidence of the long-term benefits ICT brings in revolutionising the way in which knowledge and teaching is imparted in our classrooms.
One excellent example comes from St Aidan’s School in Brookfield in Tallaght where, with the assistance of several external strategic partners (such as South Dublin County Council, Institute of Technology Tallaght and National Centre for Technology in Education), an integrated approach to ICT in the classroom has had a profound effect on student engagement and examination results, as well as positive impacts on attendance and student participation.
I have also recently seen the example of St Colman’s College in Claremorris, where the parents are funding the provision of an iPad to each student (starting with this year’s first-years), which now means that for these pupils, school books and school bags are largely a thing of the past. This phenomenon is increasing around the country and it is imperative that we have a strong resilient network to support current and future growth in this area.
ICT also has a major role to play in assisting those with special needs and learning difficulties. Web-based resources and apps can play a role in tackling some special needs, while ICT also allows students to test their own skills and abilities and can greatly enhance their overall learning experience.
The willingness and enthusiasm that our teachers have shown in embracing ICT must also be commended. Teachers no longer have to depend on traditional textbooks to teach and can now provide a richer learning environment for their students by accessing a diverse range of online resources. Teacher collaboration in terms of sharing of tutorial material is also on the increase.
Another innovative way in which ICT has effected major change is in subject sharing between schools, where one school cannot offer a particular subject but can make it available to their students via online videoconferencing facilities.
I am also aware that the 100Mbps project has been very beneficial to those schools participating in the rollout of project maths, with teachers being able to access and use the various interactive websites to help conceptualise problems for pupils.
Even in a time of serious economic and financial difficulty, I believe that it is imperative that we invest in the rollout of high-speed broadband to secondary schools as planned. If we are serious about being a knowledge society/economy, then properly equipping the current and future generation of school children to face the challenges and opportunities of the digital age is a priority.
Pat Rabbitte, TD, Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources