“Picture the Victorian classroom in your mind, with the children sitting in rows and the teacher at the top at a blackboard,” said John Lawlor, director of Bridge21, a programme with an alternative model to teaching the Junior Cycle at second level.
“Then, without changing much, put a laptop in front of every child and instead of a blackboard, the teacher has an interactive whiteboard – have we actually changed the learning model?”
It’s an interesting question and raises a valid point. Installing technology into classrooms is not the last step in equipping schools for the future. It’s only the first step. Simply placing high-tech gadgets into a classroom will not magically give children everything they need to do well in the future.
A reform in the curriculum is required to match our aims for a smart economy. Learning reams of facts to scribble furiously on a page on examination day doesn’t do much to prepare a child for the working world.
“What we need to do is to encourage junior entrepreneurial behaviour and artistic behaviour,” said Oliver Carey, country manager of Toshiba. “I think the limits of our education system today are that we have literally been forced to chase points for universities. You have to create that spark and you have to allow that spark to generate in school.”
Carey pointed out that the digital curriculum is really about expanding minds and encouraging idea creation.
Graham Byrne, head of Ireland and Scotland’s business in Promethean, agrees that today’s children will need to know how to think for themselves in order to make it later on.
“Ultimately, learning is not about how much information you can remember. It’s about creating that neural network in your own mind and how you can effectively source the information you need,” he said.
“It’s about how you can work with others, how you can collaborate with them in finding that data, how you use the web and bring all these facets of education together.”
Byrne also noted that content to inspire children should be made available to them. Students often ask when they’ll use subjects, such as maths, in the future. Byrne believes educators need to show them how in an exciting and relevant way. He recalled how Promethean got involved with BLOOD HOUND, an engineering project aimed at designing the first supersonic car, capable of reaching 1,000mph and smashing the World Land Speed Record.
Promethean installed its ActivClassroom technology in BLOODHOUND’s education centres and also allowed teachers and students to keep up to date with the project and access STEM education resources on their website.
Byrne believes that through this, a student who may not have cared for STEM subjects before but has an interest in cars can be inspired. By getting to look at the supercar, it can bring everything alive for them.
“When you do this for children, they get interested and the STEM agenda, which traditionally has been content to be a boring agenda for a lot of young people within schools, suddenly becomes terribly exciting.
“But it’s really about having the availability of content that brings it all to life for them. And if we succeed at that we’ll have a lot of young, budding engineers in the country,” he said.
- Students involved in e-learning courses retain more information than those who study in a traditional classroom.
Fiona O’Carroll, vice-president at Houghton Mifflin Harcourt (HMH), believes students themselves can be more in charge of their own learning experience. She said the first step of the project was to implement the technology with our current curriculum.
“The vision is that the curriculum could be more student-centric, and therefore student-driven, so that it’s self-paced. Then the curriculum has to be designed from the ground up to be consumable by the student when the teacher may not be with them.”
O’Carroll believes that maths, reading and science should be initially focused on and that content from around the globe should be learned from and leveraged in order to create a curriculum that best encourages students to expand their minds and think of their own ideas.
Indeed, the need for reform in the education sector is not just an Irish concern. O’Carroll noted that the US Secretary of Education, Arne Duncan, has said this will be the direction America will take.
Carey also voiced concern, believing Ireland is “slipping behind other countries our own size”.
“The Nordics, in particular, are where you see countries that are a similar size to our own who have indigenous IT companies coming out,” he said. “In Ireland, in 10 or 20 years time, we’ll see the benefit of investing in a digital curriculum that allows children to have deeper knowledge and have a love of technology and mathematics.”
Indeed, with a revamped curriculum that supports students’ ideas, opens their minds up to all of the possibilities and encourages a thirst for learning, we can create a society of innovation and growth.