Sharp drop in primary pupils using computers in school

Fewer pupils using computers for homework as ‘digital divide’ opens between home and school

‘In 2016, almost half of Irish pupils said they rarely or never used computers at home for schoolwork, compared to an international average of 23%.’ Photograph: iStock

‘In 2016, almost half of Irish pupils said they rarely or never used computers at home for schoolwork, compared to an international average of 23%.’ Photograph: iStock

 

Children are facing a large “digital divide” in access to computers in school versus the home, according to new research.

Latest international data indicates there has been a significant drop in the number of children using computers to learn at primary school in Ireland over recent years.

In contrast there is almost universal access to devices and computers at home.

The findings are to be presented to the annual conference of the Irish Primary Principals Network on Friday.

The report by Dr Eemer Eivers draws on data from multiple national and international studies between 2011 and 2016.

Her report suggests that some of the reasons for the decline in computer use in schools may be linked to reduced access to computers, poor internet connectivity and inadequate tech support.

The report shows a sizeable drop in the percentage of Irish pupils saying they regularly used computers in school, down from 46 per cent in 2011 to only 23 per cent in 2016.

Over a similar time frame, home access to computer and devices has increased to the point where children have more devices than most other countries.

Dr Eivers said the review’s findings pointed to a “digital divide” between home and school.

One of the most surprising findings, she said, related to using computers for homework.

“There was a large drop in Irish pupils using a computer to do homework. In 2016, almost half of Irish pupils said they rarely or never used computers at home for schoolwork, compared to an international average of 23 per cent,” she said. “This is baffling, given our high levels of home resources.”

To put it in context, the only country in an international survey in 2016 with a larger percentage of children not using computers for homework was Morocco, while the only other country that came close to Ireland’s low levels of use was Iran.

Widespread problems

The time frame covered by the studies reviewed predates increased funding associated with the Department of Education’s digital strategy for schools, although the review draws on other sources to suggest that shortages of devices and poor broadband remain widespread problems.

The report found that newly qualified teachers were more likely than their more experienced colleagues to have pupils regularly use ICT (information communication technology) in lessons.

Dr Eivers said this might reflect recent changes to initial teacher education programmes, or greater levels of personal engagement with digital technology. It may also be because younger teachers were more likely to work in urban settings, with better connectivity, she said.

The report also examined specific teaching practices related to ICT. Relative to international averages, teachers asked Irish pupils to engage reasonably frequently in information retrieval, such as looking up information on the internet.

However. higher-order activities such as learning to critically appraise internet content was less common.

Irish Primary Principals Network chief executive Páiric Clerkin said this was an area of concern for school leaders.

“The rise of ‘fake news’ and the proliferation of unreliable online material means that understanding how to evaluate information sources is an essential part of digital literacy,” he said.

He called for specific training modules for teachers and school leaders to help address this.