Far better hi-tech access needed to improve pupil results, says union

Schools need much improved computer resources, says teachers’ union

Irish schools need "vastly improved access" to modern computer equipment if our students are to achieve better results in international student assessment tests, the Teachers Union of Ireland (TUI) has said.

The union was responding today to the lacklustre performance by Irish 15-year-olds in tests for problem-solving compared to results across OECD countries and a wider group of 44 countries.

The OECD has warned that students need sharper problem-solving skills or they will become adults struggling to find a good job.

Irish students were ranked 17th out of 28 OECD countries and 22nd out of 44 countries in Pisa (Programme for International Student assessment) tests organised by the OECD.

“TUI has long-held concerns about deficits in the ICT infrastructure in schools” said union president Gerard Craughwell.

"These findings also support TUI's view that any reform of the Junior Cycle must ensure, among other things, that all students have full access to modern ICT facilities and broadband," he said.

“To date, we have not received anywhere near full assurance that this will be the case.”

The Pisa problem-solving tests are carried out on a computer and last about 40 minutes. Just over 1,300 students in 183 schools sat the exams, with the results presented by the OECD today.

The Pisa findings “suggest that a lack of familiarity with using computers for school-related tasks may have contributed to a lower performance”, Mr Craughwell noted.

“Clearly, adapting to the technical requirement of this online test would have been an initial barrier for some students.”

For this reason the union looked forward to the publication of the department's Digital Strategy for Schools, tasked to address these problems.

Having good problem-solving skills are necessary given today’s high technology economies, said Andreas Schleicher, acting director of education and skills at the OECD.

“Today’s 15-year-olds with poor problem-solving skills will become tomorrow’s adults struggling to find or keep a good job,” Mr Schleicher said .

“Policy makers and educators should reshape their school systems and curricula to help students develop their problem-solving skills which are increasingly needed in today’s economies.”

The Association of Secondary Teachers, Ireland welcomed the performance of Irish students given it was achieved against a backdrop of cutbacks in education. Funding for education as a proportion of public expenditure has been in decline since 2005, said the union’s general secretary Pat King.

“This disinvestment in second-level schools is having a serious impact on the resources and services available to students, including access to ICT for learning purposes,” he said.

Students will not develop the problem-solving skills they need for the globalised economy until there are sufficient supports in schools. “The Minister must now step up to the mark and ensure that adequate funding is available for ICT in every classroom.”