Ireland ‘at risk’ of falling behind in digital learning

Film maker David Puttnam says country has just four years to catch up or risk competing with developing countries

Film maker and education reformer David Puttnam says Ireland has “about four years” to roll out a digital learning strategy or it will fall behind developing countries. Photograph: Andrew Matthews/PA Wire

Film maker and education reformer David Puttnam says Ireland has “about four years” to roll out a digital learning strategy or it will fall behind developing countries. Photograph: Andrew Matthews/PA Wire

 

Film maker and education reformer David Puttnam says Ireland has “about four years” to roll out a digital learning strategy or it will fall behind developing countries.

The Oscar-winning producer of Chariots of Fire and The Mission, who was appointed by the Government as Digital Champion for Ireland, said there were innovating people driving change here but “we have got to get Government working at the same pace as industry”.

He expressed strong support for Minister for Education Ruairi Quinn in his bid to reform the Junior Cert, combined with a planned digital learning strategy being introduced by Minister of State for Training and Skills Ciaran Cannon.

But he said: “The idea that we are going to have a free run is fantasy. Ireland has about four years to establish the strategy the Minister (Mr Cannon) is talking about. Beyond that we will be competing with nations many people in this room will not have heard of.”

Lord Puttnam, who was speaking this morning at the opening of Excited, a two-day digital learning festival at Dublin Castle, said he would love to take “the most sceptical teacher unions” to Hong Kong or Vietnam “to see just why Ruairi’s timetable is necessary”. When you see what such countries are doing “you can’t come back complacent”.

Countries in Europe of a similar size to Ireland like Estonia and Denmark “are not hanging around,” he added.

“In Singapore it’s impossible in a room to know who is coming from government and who is coming from the private sector”.

But he said “it’s not just about teachers, it’s also school leadership”. Schools should celebrate the computer programmer in the class as much as the sports star and protections should be put in place so every classroom became “a copyright free zone”, allowing teachers more freedom to use online materials.

At a panel discussion hosted by Accenture, Mr Cannon agreed there was a problem in the public sector in that “there is often times no perceived imperative for change” and when change did take place it was at “a fairly glacial pace”.

“In public service reform terms five years is exceptionally quick”, he said, which was why “we need to rally around Minister Quinn” in his plans for changing the Junior Cycle.

The Minister of State said Ireland was seeing more “disruptive innovations in education”, driven by tech entrepreneurs and some “exceptional teachers”. The challenge was “how to make it systematic in the system… We need young people who are creative, innovative and utterly adept at engaging with new technology”.

Julie Cullen, an English teacher from Co Louth who acted as Irish ambassador for Europe Code Week, said teachers were embracing new technology and were also engaged in sharing knowledge online, using the #edchatie hashtag as a way of debating on Twitter.

“It’s a little bit of CPD (continuing professional development) everyone does at the same time.”

Asked about the unions’ stance against reforms, the English teacher St Oliver’s Community College in Drogheda said a lot of teachers knew that embracing technology would help but the Croke Park and Haddington Road deals had restricted the scope for training and innovation.

She said teachers would like to be able to engage in peer-to-peer CPD rather than being told by the Department of Education how training must take place.

The scale of the training challenge was highlighted by Rene Tristan Lidiksen, managing director of Lego Education Europe, who said coding was “something weird” and quite alien to most adults, while Brendan Cannon, director of corporate affairs at Intel Ireland, pointed out that everyone in society was on a steep learning curve.

“For social cohesion you don’t want this digital divide” between the generations, he said. Also, “We need to make education more inclusive and life-long. CPD is not just for teachers. It’s for everyone in society. It’s for parents too.”

He said he heard a parent “with great glee” saying they had limited a child’s access to the computer to 30 minutes a week.

“I think parents have to understand how learning takes place in the modern world and trust young people”.

The festival formally opens this evening, with more than 250 students attending workshops, talks and other events, including a Dragon’s Den- type competition where they will pitch for the Excited Young EdTech Innovators Award.

Among the highlights on Saturday will be a presentation by the inventor of the mobile phone Marty Cooper entitled ‘The future of education’ and a closing presentation by entrepreneur Sal Khan via the web talking about his connection with Ireland through Mathletes and The Khan Academy.

More at excited.ie