Computer use in schools up 65pc

16 Jun 2003

The National Centre for Technology in Education (NCTE) has released preliminary figures on the current status of information and communications technology (ICT) in Ireland’s schools. The schools that responded to the census reported a total of 67,350 computers, a 65pc increase on the number reported in 2000.

However, the average public computer ratio for primary and post primary decreased – 18.1 in 2000 to 11.8 in 2002 and 13 in 2000 to 9.4 in 2002 respectively. The census had an overall response rate of 83pc.

When asked to report the amount of money spent on ICT in addition to the grants received from the Department of Education and Science, it was found that €4,287 was the average additional expenditure on ICT for each primary school and €21,523 for post primary schools. The source of this additional funding came mostly from fundraising activities and parent contribution, the survey found.

The 2000 data revealed that disadvantaged schools were better equipped, on average than other schools. This pattern continued in 2002, according to NCTE’s preliminary figures. Disadvantaged primary schools, on average, had a pupil computer ratio of 10.5 to 1, compared with 11.9 in other schools. At the post primary level the disadvantaged schools had an average of 7.8 students per computer, compared with 10 for other schools.

The NCTE also reported that in 2000, 69pc of post primary schools had internet access via an ISDN line, but by 2002 this had risen to 85pc. While most post-primary schools had ISDN, very few had broadband, with only 3.5pc having digital subscriber line connections and 1.9pc having satellite connections. In the primary schools the picture was and remains very different. The majority of schools were using telephone lines to access the Internet, and less than one third had ISDN connections, NCTE’s preliminary figures show.

On the up side, the average hours pupils spent online each month increased, with pupils in primary school spending 14 hours online and pupils in post primary 56.8 hours.

Among the priorities and needs, the schools pointed out that getting all pupils to a basic level of ICT skills, to integrate ICT into curricular subjects, to ensure that pupils with no computer at home are not disadvantaged, faster internet access and internet access on more computers was a high priority.

“International comparisons increasingly underline the growing gap, which exists in ICT provision against cutting-edge education systems internationally,” says Jerome Morrissey, director of the NCTE.

The most recent EU Eurobarometer survey of ICT in schools shows that Ireland is under the EU average for pupil to computer ratios (the EU average is 9:1) with the leading countries averaging as follows: Denmark 3:1, Finland 6:1, UK and Sweden 7:1. Ireland averages 10:1.

Ireland is last in the EU in the provision of broadband connectivity within schools (0pc), the EU average is 32pc with Sweden, Denmark and Finland at 60pc or above and the UK (where there is a commitment to 100pc broadband provision by 2005) at 27pc.

According to Morrissey, broadband services to every school are a prerequisite.
“The provision of rich interactive resources through broadband will provide schools with an unique opportunity to develop new classroom strategies for learning and teaching – one where cross-curricular learning takes place at the pupils own pace and learning style,” he says. “Pupils will learn and practice higher order skills at a younger age and individualized learning will be enabled. Learning will be participative and collaborative. None of this is possible without the provision of broadband services to schools.”

Substantial funding will be required in the years ahead if Ireland is to reach international comparisons in terms of ICT in schools, according to Morrissey.

“Schools need to be provided with the necessary equipment, networks and support, including technical maintenance; there needs to be broadband connectivity to the classroom; teacher effectiveness in enabling ICT needs to be enhanced to improve learning in the classroom; and to ensure that curriculum – relevant digital resources are available for use in learning and teaching,” Morrissey concludes.

The NCTE preliminary figures were presented at the ICT sub-committee of the Joint Committee on Communications, Marine and Natural Resources last week.

By Lisa Deeney