Leading technology employers have emerged as the driving force behind concerted efforts to reduce the cost of laptops for third level students as well as ensure second level teachers have ICT skills.
Two separate programmes are under way to increase the levels of computer use in Irish schools and colleges.
HP, Microsoft and Intel are understood to be behind an initiative alongside the Uninon of Students in Ireland to provide college-approved laptops at up to 45pc off regular retail prices.
The Laptops4Students programme works with colleges, schools and companies throughout Ireland to enable students and their families get access to affordable but relevant technology.
Another ICT programme – the European Pedagogical ICT license (EPICT) – aims to make teachers technology savvy and make them better at supporting their digital native students.
An imminent report for Government by ICT bosses highlights the need for better teacher training in ICT as well as greater integration of ICT infrastructure in classrooms.
The Laptops4Students programme comes with a laptop bundle containing over €500 of extras – including the Microsoft Office Professional 2007 suite, anti-virus software, a college backpack, memory key and a 3 year warranty.
“All parties involved, the colleges and the key technology partners – HP and Microsoft – have worked together to get the right fit between what students need in a college laptop, and what represents excellent value for money. A laptop for college needs to be more like a business laptop than a laptop for home-use. It needs a business operating system and professional application suite. Also, warranty and support are hugely important.” said Mike Lynch, programme manager for Laptops4Students.
“The feedback from colleges and universities around the country is very positive. Over 40 Irish colleges and universities have chosen Laptops4Students as their endorsed student laptop programme for 2009. Colleges see the programme as providing a valuable service to students as well as removing some of the headaches of their own IT staff,” Lynch said.
The EPICT programme is the equivalent of a European Computer Driving License (ECDL) for teachers, but with a focus on classroom practice rather than just IT skills.
Already, over a dozen INTO members and a similar number of teachers working with Mary Immaculate College in Limerick have come through a programme for course tutors. And it is anticipated that thousands more will complete the EPICT licence in stages, training which will be a massive boost to their pupils from primary school to Junior Certificate level.
Teachers too will benefit as the chance to up-skill will also offer them the potential to earn extra cash by tutoring their peers down the line and boosting their promotional prospects.
Areas covered will include locating resources on the Web, presentation technologies, communication and collaboration on the Internet, using digital images, spreadsheets, web and desktop publishing, databases and datalogging.
The courses will be run during the school term but outside of school hours and will be delivered on-line through a virtual learning platform as well as facilitator-led face to face sessions.
By John Kennedy