The Government wants to put wifi networks into classrooms

New Leaving Cert subject proposed as €210 million allocated for digital strategy

The report notes “there is a need to invest in digital devices in schools”. Photograph: Getty Images

The report notes “there is a need to invest in digital devices in schools”. Photograph: Getty Images

 

Plans for a Leaving Cert Information and Communications Technology (ICT) subject and the greater use of electronic devices in class are contained in a long-awaited digital strategy for schools to be published on Wednesday.

The five-year plan identifies the rollout of wireless networks within schools as “a key Government priority”.

Some €30 million is to be invested in this and other elements of the strategy next year, rising to €50 million in 2020.

While high-speed broadband has now been extended to all secondary schools under a programme jointly funded by the Departments of Communication and Education, the report says “schools require scalable, robust wifi solutions” to bring the technology into the classroom.

Moreover, it says “there is a need to invest in digital devices in schools”, citing a small but increasing number of schools operating a “bring your own device” policy.

The strategy says ICT should be embedded in initial teacher education programmes: “There is a need to ensure that all teachers are equipped with the knowledge, skills and confidence to integrate ICT into their practice.”

However, it stops short of recommending that every teacher should get a mobile device for digital teaching and learning as is the case in some other countries.

“Many teachers would like access to a computing device ‘as part of their professional toolkit’,” the report notes. But, it says “schools are at different stages of their journey towards ICT integration and there is an acknowledgment that a one-size-fits-all approach will not achieve success”.

A budget of €210 million has been allocated for implementing the Digital Strategy for Schools 2015-2020, a figure which was incorporated in the Government’s capital expenditure plan announced last week.

Key recommendations of the report, which was developed over the past two years through consultations with teachers, management bodies and other stakeholders, are:

- Align teachers’ professional learning in ICT to Teaching Council registration;

- Encourage and support the use of ePortfolios for teachers;

- Enhance ICT capacity and awareness in the education system in partnership with industry;

- Encourage a culture of innovation;

- Provide parents/guardians, students and teachers with information, advice and tools to promote safer, more responsible and more effective use of the internet, including developing additional resources on cyber-bullying awareness;

- Provide advice and funding for greater access to devices in the classroom, cloud services, and internet connectivity;

- National Council for Curriculum and Assessment to provide advice and options to the Minister on further developing the provision for digital learning in the Senior Cycle including the feasibility an in-depth ICT Leaving Cert subject.

The strategy notes that “ICT also has the potential to be misused in schools”, citing the recent OECD study which cast doubt over its benefits in boosting literacy and numeracy test scores.

“Embedding ICT in teaching, learning and assessment is a complex endeavour and the mere presence of ICT in a school does not equate to its effective use.”

Thus, it emphasises the need for “distributed leadership”, whereby school management and other key stakeholders “take ownership of this challenge so that we achieve ICT integration and equip learners with the digital competencies that we value”.