Educators express ‘raging impatience’ to begin reform

2 Jun 2011

How many people really understood the shockwaves that were felt through the teaching profession in Ireland when the OECD Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) rankings were published in May?

The rankings, which determine just how well a nation is doing in terms of maths, literacy and languages, did not paint a positive picture. The performance of Irish 15-year-olds in maths and reading showed a significant deterioration since the last survey in 2006.

Ireland ranked 26th in maths and 17th in reading literacy. While the need to put computers in schools, for example, has been an issue for many years now, it is clear that it goes deeper than that.

According to ASTI assistant secretary-general Moira Leyden, teachers are sick of being made the scapegoat.

“Teachers are in favour of transforming education and are willing to engage with the decision-making world to transform the education system. We are part of the solution; we’re not in the business of resisting change.

“The PISA report shook everyone to the core. All teachers agree, being just about average is not good enough,” Leyden said.

Speaking at the Intel Open Forum on Education, which was held at Dublin’s Science Gallery last Thursday, Taoiseach Enda Kenny promised that a radical reform is in the offing.

“The next decade will be shaped by advances in nanotechnology and biotechnology. If we can’t change the education system we have, it will be a problem. We need to give young people the ability to compete and challenge their peers around the world,” the Taoiseach said.

The general manager of Intel in Ireland, Eamonn Sinnott, said that getting our education system right will determine the nation’s future prosperity.

Pointing to the recent breakthrough at Intel that resulted in a 3D transistor design called Tri-Gate, which will prolong technology innovation in the computer industry for decades to come, Sinnott said: “The education system needs to evolve to ensure that we are at the heart of that kind of innovation.

“Our education system has served us well, but the first step is to decide to compete and what it’s going to take for us to win.”

Peter Hamilton, general manager of Intel’s Performance Learning Solutions Group, said that any investment in technology in education must be accompanied by far-reaching changes to the syllabus.

“There’s no point teaching kids to create iPad apps when, two years from now, something newer will come along. Don’t start designing courses for the skills of the next five years, design them for the next 30 or 40 years.”

The message from Jerome Morrissey, director of the National Centre for Technology in Education, was that change is already afoot, with the National Council for Curriculum and Assessment to start reform at the junior cycle.

“There’s a lot of innovation happening in Irish schools and integrating computing will be a major catalyst for change.”

Meanwhile, Regina Moran, chair of ICT Ireland and country manager at Fujitsu, said the future direction of education in Ireland will have a huge influence on the continuing growth of the ICT sector here.

She said supporting the quality teaching of maths in the secondary cycle is vital and that an emphasis needs to be placed on ensuring greater competence and qualifications for the teaching of the subject in schools.

“A survey we conducted recently of teachers found that among maths educators, 48pc of respondents don’t have a qualification in maths,” added Moran.

Photo: Taoiseach Enda Kenny and Eamonn Sinnott, general manager of Intel in Ireland, thrash out education reform

John Kennedy is a journalist who served as editor of Silicon Republic for 17 years