Classroom internet access linked to much higher test scores

Schools teaching design and graphics programme set to benefit from €7m in grants

Primary school children who used the internet in the classroom had significantly higher mathematics and reading scores on average than peers who had no online access, a study by the Economic and Social Research Institute (ESRI) has found.

The researchers said “we cannot be certain that the use of internet in the class caused” the higher scores but there was a strong “relationship” identified.

The study comes amid further investment in technology in schools, with the announcement of €7 million in grants to post-primary schools to support the implementation of Design and Communication Graphics (DCG) curriculum.

Minister for Education and Skills Jan O'Sullivan announced the funding on Tuesday, which will see 450 schools get an average of €15,560 for the purchase of computers and software to encourage more students to take DCG in the Leaving Cert.


The ESRI study, published in the ‘Economic and Social Review’, identified “encouraging” returns from the state’s investment of €30 million in primary school broadband between 2005 and 2008.

The researchers found “no evidence for Ireland of the negative effects of broadband in schools reported in some studies internationally” but cited a time lapse in the positive results filtering through here.

“We found that on average teachers were more than twice as likely to use the internet in class after broadband service was installed under the programme, but it took about two years for this gain to emerge.

“This is not surprising, because it takes time for teachers to learn to use new technologies and to change their teaching practices.

“In addition, teachers in schools with better computer-related facilities were also more likely to use the internet in class.”

While many teachers and pupils express frustration at slow broadband speeds, the researchers found that having a faster connection speed had no statistically significant effect on educational outcomes.

Of the scale of these improvements, the authors noted, “the average difference in mathematics test scores between children in classes with and without internet use was as big as the rise enjoyed by children whose mothers had completed a degree rather than finishing at the Leaving Cert”.

ESRI and TCD researcher Seán Lyons, one of the authors of the study, said “we think the effect of the internet in the classroom depends on the context, and the way it’s used.

“So it may even differ from one school to another, and certainly from one country to another.”

A study in Portugal last year found that the roll out of broadband in schools led to negative educational outcomes for both male and female pupils.

But Mr Lyons said Portuguese schools appeared to have brought in internet access “in an unrestrictive way”.

The negative impact had been greatest in Portuguese schools where pupils were allowed to access websites such as YouTube.

For the study, the team of researchers, comprising Mr Lyons, Marie Hyland, Richard Layte, Selina McCoy and Mary Silles, examined data from standardised test scores, statistics on the broadband rollout, and figures from the Growing Up in Ireland survey.

Announcing the grants for the DCG programme, Minister for Education and Skills Jan O’Sullivan says the subject incorporated principles of science, materials, manufacture, design, technology and information technology and as such “directly contributes to the key skills required in Ireland’s knowledge-based economy”.

In 2012, 5,319 candidates sat the exam, with the predicted 2015 figure standing at 5,705.

“The allocated funding has been increased accordingly and will ensure that this important subject continues to go from strength to strength,” she said.

Letters will issue to schools detailing the amount of money they’re being allocated, based on the number of students who had taken the subject in the past three-four years.

The Department has also purchased support software from Solid Solutions Ireland for six years and three months, at a cost of €299,000.

Joe Humphreys

Joe Humphreys

Joe Humphreys is an Assistant News Editor at The Irish Times and writer of the Unthinkable philosophy column