Call for Irish schools to embrace broadband

13 May 2005

The project liaison manager working with the schools involved in the Diageo Liberties Learning Initiative (DLLI) in the Digital Hub has said that the rollout of broadband to Irish schools – due to be completed by the end of the year – won’t be a success unless there is a significant shift in attitudes towards technology.

David Clifford, a former teacher now on secondment from educational body The National Centre for Technology in Education to the DLLI, said that in general, schools were not familiar with technology and that it was not integrated in their teaching methods. Broadband could change this but only if schools applied it properly, he said. “Technology is currently not a key component in schools but broadband might change this. Schools will have to find new ways to use the internet.”

John Hurley, head of learning initiatives at the Digital Hub, agreed that broadband has to be combined with a vision of what it can achieve. He said this had been the experience in the Liberties, where as part of the DLLI, 16 schools in the area have been using broadband for the past 18 months. “Broadband on its own is not going to achieve anything. It’s only a conduit; it’s only as good as the use it’s put to,” he said.

Clifford and Hurley were speaking with yesterday at the opening of a two-day exhibition in the Digital Hub to showcase the digital media creations by children from the Liberties area of Dublin. A range of projects including educational films, rap records and animated stories in Irish are on display at the event, which has been organised by The Digital Hub through the DLLI.

Over the past three years, more than 900 children from 16 schools in the Liberties area have been engaged in a range of digital media projects, which have been designed to teach them digital media skills such as digital photography, sound recording, image manipulation and editing.

In one such project called Claymation, children created characters from play dough. These were then filmed and the children used their digital media skills to animate the characters. Voice-overs ‘as Gaeilge’ and sound effects were introduced. The end result is a series of short films that are used in the classroom to teach Irish.

Another project DigiRhythm saw local children use cutting-edge digital technology to record and edit their own rap music. The children worked with musicians, DJs and sound engineers to write the rap tracks and produce them.

Other projects featured at the Digital Liberties exhibition include Digital Beat (music video production), Digital Control Technology (programming of machines), and Fis a Do (production of films).

The exhibition was opened by Tom Kitt TD, Minister of State with special responsibility for the Information Society. He told the 100-plus teachers and children present that the project underlined the importance of technology as a means for socially deprived areas such as the Liberties to escape the poverty trap. “Technology is so important and it’s important that everyone gets a chance to use it. This is your chance to get a good job. Ireland has a good name in technology and this is your chance to carry the flag into the future.”

The Diageo Liberties Learning Initiative is supported by €2.6m in funding from Diageo Ireland. As the funding period finishes at the year, negotiations are under way between the Digital Hub and Diageo about the future of the project. Diageo has already signalled that it is keen to continue supporting the initiative but not with the same level of financial support.

Acknowledging that there was a ‘funding issue’, Hurley said he believed there was a strong case for central government funding for the project because it plays a unique role as a showcase and testbed for integrating technology in education. The Government contributes a small amount to the operation of the project through the National Centre for Technology in Education and the Department of Education and Science.

To benchmark the achievements of the DLLI to date, the Digital Hub has commissioned management consultancy firm Farrell Grant Sparks to produce a report by year-end. According to Clifford, the project enjoys widespread local support and has had some very positive benefits. “The community and schools don’t want it to end,” he stated. “They see evidence of children who have attendance problems at school attending on days when the digital projects are taking place. They see children being motivated to learn.”

By Brian Skelly