Ask Brian: Is move to ebooks in secondary schools a good idea?

Poor ICT teacher skills are a recipe for disaster in the classroom

Q My child enters secondary school next September. The college wrote to say it is considering a move to ebooks as part of its digital strategy, and has called a meeting of incoming first-year parents. I have read some negative stories about this option and know of one local school that moved to ebooks but has now reverted back to traditional school books. What is your opinion on ICT in schools for teaching?

A This is both topical and timely. Minister for Education Jan O’Sullivan recently launched a new five-year ICT strategy for schools to enhance teaching, learning and assessment. Its purpose is to integrate IT in every classroom in a systematic and focused way. In skilful hands, ICT can transform how a teacher teaches and how students learn.

Teachers with good ICT skills can use IT in the classroom to, as the Minister said, bring learning to life for their students; to give them the tools to collaborate with each other in the learning process; to examine engaging problems; and to research and analyse information in a way that embeds the learning.

Such talented teachers can facilitate students in acquiring skills to use ICT to communicate their ideas both in their class group and beyond the school.

The question for the parent of a student whose school proposes to embed ICT within its teaching and learning is whether all the teachers are sufficiently skilled to implement this approach.

As a teacher of a certain generation, I struggle with ICT in my personal life, so I’d be slow to introduce it in my teaching without training in how to use it effectively. For me and others to use ICT centrally in teaching and learning, without appropriate skills, would be highly destructive to the quality of my students’ learning.

All teachers need to be measured against the Unesco ICT competency framework to ensure they have the skills and confidence to integrate ICT into teaching practice. The question to ask at the meeting in your child's new school is the extent to which all teachers in the school meet the Unesco ICT criteria.

If the school has been rolling out a programme over a number of years of teacher upskilling and retraining in the use of ICT, and is now ready to implement it in the classroom, I would not hesitate to support the move.

If not, I recommend extreme caution, because the misuse of ICT is schools due to poor teacher skills is a recipe for rapid deterioration in the quality of teaching and learning.

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