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Thoughts on the Digital Strategy

The Digital Strategy for Schools 2015-2020 is the latest attempt by the government to come up with a strategy for the use of technology in education. Its timing is more interesting than the last few because it is accompanied by money. This article aims to summarise what’s on offer and how it’s all going to work. As always, I’ll be coming from a primary education angle.

The document starts off with a wishy-washy introduction from Jan O’Sullivan. I must say I am growing quite tired of her constant knack to say absolutely nothing. The Executive summary starts with a page of waffle then eventually gets to a point when they divide the strategy into 4 sections or themes:
  • Teaching, Learning and Assessment using ICT
  • Teacher Professional Learning
  • Leadership, Research and Policy
  • ICT Infrastructure
The summary refers to The UNESCO ICT Competency Framework for Teachers for the first two themes. There isn’t much in the third theme and there is a vague promise of fast broadband for primary schools in the fourth theme. It’s way too vague for my liking.
The first really interesting part of the report for me in on page 10. There’s a lovely summary of what’s been happening since 1997. It starts with a brief sentence about how the government have been investing in ICT since 1997 then jumps to 2008 bypassing probably the most dynamic time of transformation in technology. In other words, it’s almost an acknowledgement that they did nothing for over 10 years. Unfortunately, after that, there isn’t anything very concrete.
Moving on to the themes:
It’s weird to read the first paragraph of each section because it seems to be the same as the previous one. It’s like a mantra: “ICT can be beneficial”(quoth someone, 200x) By the time, one gets to anything meaningful, it’s hard to tell as it’s padded with so much waffle.
Reading through it, one gets the impression that the consultation process was, as usual, a nonsense. For example the report states:
Feedback from schools indicates that [the 2009 NCTE] handbook is beneficial in helping schools to plan, but needs to be updated to complement the School Self-Evaluation (SSE) process.
I don’t believe that anybody in the consultation process made that statement for one second.
Another one:
Submissions called for the development of students’ digital literacy by including coding and programming in the Irish primary and post-primary curriculum so that every learner has an opportunity to learn skills such as computational thinking, logic, critical thinking and strategic thinking to solve problems.
 
I know for certain that the above is one of the most divisive issues for those interested in education and technology. Looking through the list of people who submitted, I can see a large percentage of them would be appalled at such a thing, myself included.
One piece of good news in the strategy is nestled nicely in a section called Digital Content.
Schools can use the Book Grant Scheme to purchase a range of digital resources relevant to the curriculum. These may include student subscriptions to online maths or reading programmes, school site licences or app downloads
This is a very welcome piece of news so credit where it’s due for this.
Theme 2 is all about Professional Development.
I have to say I was very disappointed by this section. I thought there would be concrete examples of opportunities for learning for teachers but it was paragraphs of very vague ideas tail-ended with a list of initiatives that don’t really address professional development properly. One example would be how ICT would be used in teacher training and how that needs to change dramatically. Another example was how Education Centres were going to work. Would ICT advisors be back and why or why not? What kind of funding would there be for CPD? How would it work?
Moving on to the third theme: Leadership, Research and Policy.
Here is the first sentence.
There is a need for strong leadership at all levels of the education system in order to ensure the successful implementation of the Strategy
 
I would suggest this might start with a strong sense of leadership in the strategy as I have absolutely no idea what’s going on in it so far and I’m half way through it. Ultimately, after reading the section, I was no wiser.
Finally, theme 4: ICT Infrastructure. Perhaps, they were saving the best until last. Would the government be announcing that they will be providing a systematic, centralised, planned ICT framework with all schools having access to fast broadband, wifi and decent hardware?
Well, the good news is that primary schools look like they are going to get fast broadband… oh wait… sorry, 1,500 schools (most of which will be primary schools) will be getting fast broadband by 2020. By my calculations, that sounds like 30-40% of primary schools will have fast broadband by 2020. To me, this isn’t remotely good enough.
Wifi is mentioned and that is good news too. However, I’ve been interested to hear that new schools are being asked to choose between a wired and a wireless network rather than having both. Does this spell the end of wired networks in schools? If so, does it matter?
On devices, the paragraph starts: There is a need to invest in digital devices in schools. This is about as much commitment there is. There’s nothing to say who will provide this equipment. I think we’ll probably have to continue the cake sales.
There’s a section on one-to-one devices and BYOD, cloud service and technical support. None of them say very much except a vague commitment that the government will investigate the best way to provide technical support for schools. However, it falls short of providing it themselves only stating that they will provide guidance on the best technical support solutions for schools.
There is a short chapter on implementation, which doesn’t really address implementation and then there’s a bunch of appendices.
All in all, I am unsurprised but ultimately disappointed that this document appears to be a complete waste of time. There are almost no commitments to anything. Most disappointing of all is that the number one request for primary schools in terms of ICT is decent broadband and even by 2020, the government don’t seem to be able to give this to more than 40% of schools. It looks like primary schools are again to be treated as minor players in the education system and we will have to continue to haphazardly navigate our way through the landscape.

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