Technology in Schools in the Dark Ages?

Great – another article damning schools and the Department of Education for failing the youth of today. The Irish Times recently published an article by Brian O’Connell who claims that since he was in school in 1985, nothing has changed in Irish schools when it comes to “teaching computers.” He claims that his son receives about the same amount of computer teaching time as he did almost 30 years ago and then argues that “computers” should be a stand alone subject in the curriculum.

Items that O’Connell believes should be in a computer curriculum would be typing, Word, Excel, and PowerPoint. Thankfully, he rescues his argument by proposing that programming also forms part of his curriculum and mentions the great work of CoderDojo who are plugging this hole.
As with almost all articles about technology in education today, O’Connell failed to pick up on the fantastic work being done in lots of schools around the country. This week alone saw Digital Art Week, a project that took place in over 100 schools around the country. Dozens of schools engaged in social media through a Twitter treasure hunt and there were hundreds of images uploaded to the National Children’s Gallery. A CESI Meet was held in Sligo last night where teachers from all over the country shared the fantastic work they are doing with ICT in schools from making apps to classroom management tools.
That was just this week.  There are schools using technology to help children learn every day of the school year these days through blogging, digital storytelling, podcasting, video and much more.
Some schools are teaching computer programming and, yes, I admit, probably not enough but we’re far from being in the same situation as O’Connell was in 1985. We’re even getting beyond the Interactive Whiteboard as a teaching tool and using it in more innovative ways.
The concept of teaching computers as a separate subject in primary schools is flawed. Children don’t see computers as separate – they are just another way to learn things. The Primary School curriculum got a few things right and one of those was not to allow ICT be a separate subject.  ICT is another methodology (or more accurately, a number of methodologies), and this is very important in its continued success.
Is technology in the dark ages now? I believe that lots of schools are emerging from the scenario that is outlined in this article. Sadly, another journalist has missed the opportunity to showcase the great work being done in schools today.

Comments (8)

  1. Oconnellbr May 4, 2012 at 4:41 am Reply

    Hi, I’d like to reply to what I think is a very selective reading of my recent opinion piece.  I mentioned basic computing skills such as typing, and programmes such as Word, Excel etc by asking the question how many students leave the current education system with those skills? Nowhere did I say these are the skills which should be prioritized. I also quoted representatives of Teacher’s Unions on the issue who happen to support many of the arguments I made. My essential point is that coding and digital literacy should be prioritized and that we need to, in my view, consider ICT as a standalone subject. I explicitly state that some schools are doing great work, and also took the time to find out what changes are being made to the Junior Cert cycle and Government investments in Broadband  etc. (I also, as it happens, reported on this issue on the Today with Pat Kenny show on RTE Radio One some weeks ago, where teachers themselves expressed many of the frustrations I highlighted in this piece. I visited one school in Cork with great IT facilities and teaching, but again, it was down to whether or not a student opted for the course and/or their parents could pay the additional fees. This is totally arbitrary learning. Some students benefit, others don’t – how is that equitable?) My view is that imparting of ICT knowledge/ learning/proficiency and skills is entirely ad-hoc at present – how digitally literate a student becomes is down to chance, a digitally savvy member of staff or parents who are committed etc.. If a student happens to be in a school where the staff are clued in digitally, then they will get a better ICT education than other students. That is a simple fact and in my view a failure of the system. Schools I visited told me that there is no time allocated in the current system in primary schools for dedicated ICT learning, and it is in this context I think we need to prioritize it and yes, I believe make it a standalone subject  so that it gets the time it deserves. The issue I see with the current system is that ICT is often only used when it can add to the current broad curriculum and not given priority in its own right.. 

    1. simonmlewis May 4, 2012 at 10:13 pm Reply

      Thanks for the response. I think you make some fair points but my point still stands that in a week of fantastic national events where schools used technology to learn, that this was ignored in favour of a pessimistic view of the system. I also object to primary and secondary education being lumbered together. Having said all this, I would be interested in hearing more about why you think ICT should be a stand alone subject. What would you think should be in this subject? I’d also be interested in what you think a subject like ICT would replace at primary level.

      1. Brian O'Connell May 4, 2012 at 10:51 pm Reply

        Your point was that I was “damning schools.” I wasn’t. Also the phrase “teaching computers” which you have in inverted commas isn’t my one. I’ve no doubt there are some great initiatives, but again these are not available to every student and not driven by a central policy in our school’s system.  That’s my point – lets have an equal playing field and open up this learning to all students.
        I attend Coder Dojo every week with my son and hear first hand from students themselves utterly bored and frustrated with the lack of real engagement with digital learning/teaching in their schools. As one told me last week the only time he is engaged is when something in the school breaks down and he is asked to fix it. I think I have explained in the previous comment why I believe ICT should be stand alone. As for the precise content, I’ll leave that to those more expert than me to work out, although I believe coding should be key. I like Scratch and Rasberry Pi a lot. 

        1. simonmlewis May 4, 2012 at 11:25 pm Reply

          Your point about an even playing field is fair enough but I think the way to lead change is to celebrate successes. An example of this has been Edchatie on Twitter every Monday night, which is growing every week. There are lots of schools out there who would be glad to help you out with examples of simple but effective ways to use ICT as a good learning tool. I realise it’s not the media’s job to encourage technology in schools but it would be great to see a supplement once in a while (not covered in advertorials) in a newspaper displaying some of the real work going on in our schools using ICT.

          1. Brian O'Connell May 5, 2012 at 6:25 am

            The way to lead change is to have a centrally driven policy available to everyone, with key targets and clearly defined parameters. As I’ve already acknowledged, some schools are doing great work but not all students can access these initiatives.  Also, much of the good work being done gets plenty coverage in the mainstream media. I remember the Sunday Business Post had a pretty good supplement recently and the Irish Times has dedicated weekly education pages where ICT issues are often touched upon. Already in the past 4 months I have covered Coder Dojo, primary and post primary schools, ICT education, teaching parents about cyber security etc on both radio and print. And as a father of a primary school pupil, I think my input is valid.

          2. simonmlewis May 5, 2012 at 12:23 pm

            But in the absence of centrally driven policy, which is too slow anyway, it takes people trying out things and taking risks to make change. For the record, take a look at the various responses to the last Sunday Business Post supplement from teachers. Unimpressed would be an understatement

  2. IT Support May 8, 2012 at 10:40 pm Reply

    Thanks for sharing these great story with us.  If Brian thinks its still the same system, then its about time the government and education sector should do something about this issue.

    1. simonmlewis May 12, 2012 at 11:29 pm Reply

      If only it were that easy! 🙂

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