For the past two years, Ireland’s post-primary students have had access to a unique resource: a website with the slightly illiterate web address of www.skoool.ie. It offers a wealth of information on a range of subjects including yearly planners, study and revision tips and, for this year’s crop of Leaving Cert students, advice on completing the CAO application forms for third-level education.
“Five years ago we were looking at initiatives to deepen Intel Ireland’s roots into more export-oriented research and development initiatives favoured by government,” explains Peter Hamilton, head of education development at the Intel IT Innovation Centre. “We looked at our strengths and opened a corporate IT innovation centre with a worldwide mandate. We then looked at a number of areas where we could develop our strengths. These included learning, wireless and technology delivery solutions. We decided to focus on digital learning for schools because it is a huge driver of technology usage and huge driver of a future information society. Everybody passes through secondary education and if they get good experience with computing they will enter adulthood ready for the information society and ready for computers.”
The company initially developed and launched Scoilnet.ie for the Department of Education and Science. However, according to Hamilton, the company quickly discovered that students wanted learning content rather than services and that government has its limitations. So, working beyond Scoilnet Intel developed a next generation approach that would become Skoool.ie. The site was launched by Taoiseach Bertie Ahern TD in February 2002 and, according to Hamilton, has since become the definitive online resource for secondary education.
“It has to be said that we did not develop Skoool.ie on our own,” he points out. “Without the backing of our collaborators AIB and The Irish Times, Skoool.ie simply could not have been made to happen.
“Some 60pc of Leaving Cert students used the service last spring,” he says. “We have won all major national internet awards for the past two years. We won the Golden Spider special award for best .ie site two years running and at the O2 digital media awards 2002 we took Best Online Content and Best Broadband Content and we were shortlisted this year in four categories. For me that is a pretty clean sweep of national awards.”
According to Hamilton, the next step is to export Skoool to other countries. “We have been developing solutions for the UK and international education over the past 12 months and we will be showcasing our major next generation Skoool at the BETT 2004 show in London. Other international projects in the pipeline include a pilot initiative in Karlstad in Sweden and other European and worldwide opportunities,” he continues.
Skoool.ie was also recently recognised by the UN as being one of the top five educational sites in the world and this recognition will help the export drive, says Hamilton. “We have managed the PR carefully to use the awards we have won to build a positive perception of what we have developed. National awards have been a strong stepping stone to prove that we have developed something significant. International recognition from the UN is a perfect springboard for moving further afield,” he says.
One of the advantages that students in these new markets will have will be greater access to broadband. “Skoool.ie was developed with rich multimedia learning resources to excite kids,” admits Hamilton. “It is a high-end product that requires broadband to be used to get it at its best. However, we have a huge library of exam study modules that work with narrowband.” He points out that while 60pc of schools in the UK have access to broadband technology, only 20pc of UK homes have it. So there will always be a demand for narrowband-optimised resources.
Nevertheless, Skoool.ie will continue to push the broadband envelope.
By David Stewart