Meath school set to drop controversial iPad-only policy

Ratoath College to change policy that led to a campaign by parents concerned at screen time

Leyla Kaya, a student at Ratoath College: The school is dropping its iPad-only policy for junior cycle students. Photograph: Alan Betson

Leyla Kaya, a student at Ratoath College: The school is dropping its iPad-only policy for junior cycle students. Photograph: Alan Betson

 

A secondary school in Co Meath is set to drop its iPad-only policy for new students after an independent review recommended books should be reintroduced.

The move is likely to be influential in shaping how other secondary schools incorporate technology in the classroom.

Ratoath College, a 1,000-pupil school, has been at the centre of controversy following a vocal campaign by some parents who were concerned over the amount of time their children were spending on screens.

An “independent digital review group” issued its report to the school’s board of management of Wednesday night. Among its recommendations are that first-year students should no longer be required to buy a iPad.

In future, teaching and learning at the school should be based on a “blended approach” that involves textbooks and technology.

Crucially, it is understood that the access to technology will be limited to digital devices under the supervision of teachers in the classroom.

The review group included Dr Ann Marcus Quinn, an expert in technical communication and instructional design at the University of Limerick; former school principal Cora Dunne; and former Department of Education inspector Dr Carl Ó Dálaigh.

In a letter to parents, Ratoath College principal Séamus Meehan said the full report will be reviewed by the school board and the Louth Meath Education and Training Board.

‘Detrimental’ effect

They will decided on the “practical implications” associated with implementing the group’s recommendations, after which a presentation will be made to parents, students and staff.

The findings endorse the position of those parents who campaigned against the school’s iPad-only policy.

In a statement, the “concerned parents” group said it had campaigned for change believing the use of the iPad as a primary learning tool in place of physical textbooks was “detrimental to our children’s education, health and wellbeing”.

“We are delighted that the group has recommended, among other findings, that the iPad policy is to be abolished for incoming first-years. Parents who shared their experiences and concerns feel that they have been vindicated. It was not easy challenging the status quo but our motivation was the best interests of our children,” said Nicola Kearns, the group’s spokeswoman.

“We empathise with parents faced with similar situations in schools across the country. Parents are key stakeholders in their children’s’ education and their voice deserves to be heard.”

Fianna Fáil TD Thomas Byrne said he welcomed the fact the school board had listened to the concerns of parents and taken expert advice.

‘Blended learning’

“This a very new issue facing education in Ireland. I think what they proposed in terms of blended learning is where most parents and educators are at and I welcome this,” he said.

“This is an issue affecting schools across the country and some serious national guidelines are needed from the Department of Education. Perhaps this report – though specific to Ratoath – may prove useful to other schools.”

The parents’ group said there were still questions to be answered on the recommendations and how they will implemented as the full report has yet to be published.

Ms Kearns added that parents across the State should be “wary” of the introduction and embedding of technology in children’s school.

“They should be encouraged to question how and why digital policies are being implemented and their impact on learning, attainment and health,” said Ms Kearns. “We look forward to see the report in full and to supporting the school in implementing positive changes.”