Irish government fails to invest in education

I visited a primary school today and spent over an hour talking to the principal about the school’s IT requirements. God I’m depressed after it.

The school has a few computers with Internet access and the principal is enthusiastic about ICT (he has the children writing html in Notepad from as young as 8 years old) so this school is much better off than many I know.

Even so, it was soul destroying to see such an enthusiastic educator being held up at every step by the bureaucratic nightmare that is the Department of Education.

He recently had s problem with his broadband connection (satellite, supplied by the Department via DigiWeb). When he called the Department’s helpline, the response he got was “Well, it is fine from here.” End of conversation. This is his only line of support. He got the kids to test downloading a file via the broadband connection and via Eircom dialup – the dialup was faster!

The Irish government invested €25m in ICT for schools in 2001/2 and nothing since. Schools are left up to their own devices. Many schools are operating on machines with Windows 98 or worse.

Teachers who want to teach ICT in schools are given no training, no resources, no curriculum and no support. There is currently NO strategy in place around ICT in schools in Ireland.

Good God, computers should be taught in every school in the country from primary through to third level. All the schools should be networked so they can share information amongst themselves using social media.

Schools should have Intranets so that students can submit homework from home and parents can log in and monitor progress. Every student’s desk should have an Internet connected PC. This is just basic stuff.

What hope has Ireland in the coming years when we won’t even invest in ICT in our education system?

29 thoughts on “Irish government fails to invest in education”

  1. Depressing, but not surprising. They’d rather dig up roads and throw our money into the hole. At least that’s what they’ve been doing, in a manner of speaking.

  2. This has been a battle I’m well familiar with, and the school I was helping at, was mostly running Windows 95, networked, and we moved it from ISDN to ADSL. But the then ‘ICT’ teachers mostly used the computers as typing tutors. Most did not allow them on the internet, and one refused the students the use of printers because it used up too much ink, even when they whet to a networked Laser printer, she wouldn’t let her students use it.

  3. They should invest some of that money in a Linux Irish Translation, then use it in schools. All the software they need can be got free as in speech, if only Dept. of Education made an effort. I have first hand experience, I am in 6th Year, and the money handed over to Microsoft and ISV’s is astonishing waste, when it could have been spent on providing wireless across the school etc. My school got a grant for ethernet in every classroom, it was delivered overtime, over-budget and where a wireless solution would have made more sense (ugly cat lan cables everywhere now). Check out http://www.edubuntu.org for something I am talking about.

    Thanks,
    Neil

  4. Deee-pressing. I had a couple of insights into the mindset of the pooh-bahs on this recently. First, I was talking with a senior official in a related government department who loudly trumpeted that our spending on education was comparable (as a % of GDP) to that of other ECD countries.

    Second, I was consulting with a nascent consortium who were pitching for some of the 23 major school projects that the minister announced last year. In discussion with senior officials in the Dept of Educ, we discovered that the ‘approved’ plans for schools essentially consisted of a big shed in a field with 800 – 1,000 chairs in it. No networking (wired or otherwise), no extra power sockets, no discussion of classroom management systems. Nada. About all they had left off the plans from the time I was in school were the little porcelain inkwells in the top corner of the desk.

    Last time I checked, the only natural resource we have in Ireland is bright young people. The SOLE reason that any corporation would drop a lump of foreign direct investment here – at the arse end of Europe with no land bridge to anywhere, a laughable health system, woefully inadequate communication infrastructures and HIDEOUSLY inadequate transport infrastructure – is because we can populate their cubicle farm with smart, confident, rounded young people. Every indicator I see tells me that we are fast losing our competitive edge in that arena and unless we start outspending our OECD competitors in the education stakes, and start getting some real value for our money while doing so, we are not going to be a serious contender going forward.

    The 5 year-olds who entered the school system last September are going to retire in 2066. Twenty SIXTY-SIX! When we look at the pace of change in the ICT space from 1996 to 2006, can anyone seriously claim to be able to even imagine what the world of work is going to look like in 2066? I’ll make one guess – it won’t involve serried ranks of wooden desks with inkwells in the top corner …

  5. These thoughts ring out clearly on the DICTAT mailing list and regular readers of http://www.Pedablogy.com will know the names of several Irish educators who have tried to promote the effective use of ICT in Irish schools. It will always be an uphill battle. The schools in my area often lack a computing advocate because there’s no real job description that embraces this specialism in the Irish teaching profession. Without a structure in place for implementation through advocates and without a recurring funding channel to feed needed upgrades, Irish schools will get their best internet connectivity around the corner in cybercafes.

    We attract more than 150 primary and post-primary staff to Thurles every year when hosting an edtech conference in Tipperary Institute. Perhaps the best thing the Irish blogging community could do is to host a series of Edcamps. Who here would support the first one if it is held in Thurles in early June instead of death by powerpoint?

  6. It is a huge problem. The ICT funding for schools in the Republic is very different to that in the UK. Over there the schools ICT projects are all ‘managed services’ arrangements where the successful tenders win the supply of the PC and their maintenance. Over here it was just the supply of PCs and thats it.

    The only way that local school principals can support the PCs is either to use a ‘small works grant’ to carry out some maint or use some of the capitation cost that they are given from the Dept. Its an awful situation. IBEC and ICT Ireland are well aware of the issue and pushed the Dept of Education pretty hard on this whole area before Christmas.

    Now.. it could be changing. In the national development plan published on 23/1, the government committed €252M in their technology in the class room proposal.

    ICT in Schools Sub-Programme
    Investment of the order of \252 million will be made in ICT for schools over the period of the Plan. A detailed ICT strategy will be published by the Department of Education and Science in 2007. In summary, this strategy will deal with: developing an e-Learning culture in schools that will ensure that ICT usage is embedded in teaching and learning across the curriculum; teacher professional development; the maintenance of a national broadband network for schools; the upgrading and renewal of hardware; and the provision of software and digital content for learning. The planned investment will also address maintenance and support requirements.

    The ‘human capital’ section of the NDP can be found here -> http://www.ndp.ie/documents/NDP2007-2013/NDP_Main_Ch09.pdf.

    I would still encourage interested members of the public or companies to work closely with local schools and principals. We are working with three schools are part of their work experience/transition year programmes and the response from students, parents and principals has been fantastic.

    >>j

  7. I remember school’s all over Ireland entering a slogan comp for an Aplle Mac.
    It took months of collecting tokens from milk cartons then finally sending the tokens away with a slogan to try win your school the Mac.

    Our school one the Apple, I got to see it once, it was the only machine in our school, it looks like things haven’t changed a whole lot 🙂

  8. The Irish government policy implementation cycle in a nutshell:

    Media furore about some issue or other
    Government concedes that “something must be done”
    Minister hires consultants to formulate policy
    Consultants report back with a plan (and a tasty invoice)
    Minister hires PR firm to launch plan
    PR firm presents a slick presentation of the plan to the media (and a tasty invoice to the department)
    Department of Finance refuses to fund the plan as it stands and demands changes
    Civil servants within the department can hardly contain their glee, and start to subvert the plan, because it means that they actually might have to do some work
    Phased roll-out starts
    Celebrity Big Brother starts on the telly, so media lose interest in plan
    Civil servants ignore the plan
    Plan falls into abeyance, having been half-heartedly rolled out
    Cabinet is reshuffled
    Media return to the issue
    New minister decides to revisit the issue, hires consultants to formulate policy
    etc., etc.

  9. This problem has been an issue for years and absolutely nothing has been done about it. The current & previous government has reacted to it in the same way it deals with other problems i.e. throw money at it. Unfortunatley without any structuring or planning.
    One of my previous companies provided tech support services to a lot of primary & secondary schools. The main problem then was the lack of training cmbined with the lack of a proper IT strategy. We went into schools with 100+ networked PC’s running of a single ISDN line. No network policies, no user profiles, no virus, spam or spyware protection, nada.
    All this because there was a shedload of hardware but no money for training. One staff member was normally assigned as sys-admin on top of their full-time job.
    Fast forward 6 years and the governemtn “gives” every school broadband. However it fails to educate them on how to use this broadband, what to do in case of any problems and how to safeguard their IT infra-structure.
    The primary school that my kids go to had a working satellite backhaul installed for two months sitting idle until I enquired when they were ever going to use it.
    Turns out that this was cabled to a switch but that no-on had ever consulted them on how to network all their desktops or on what the actual benefits of broadband could be.
    My offer to install a network were innitially refused because they were afraid that the Department (of Education) would not allow this.
    Eventually I convinced them and they now have a working network.
    Problem is still that it is being underused due to lack of awareness.
    The staff also have very little knowledge on what to do in case of a problem. A simple hard-reboot in case of a frozen system was something they had never heard of. They would actually benefit from an ECD course. However there is no funding for this.
    Their support structure now consists of myself and any other parent that is willing to help…
    What is needed is a network of IT-coordinators who will educate staff and provide the needed support.
    I don’t remember seeing anything about this in the much hyped NDP.

    E.

    P.S. Bernie, count me in…

  10. Another thing – I remember seeing last year a news report that all primary schools were to get a load of Apple gear to promote teaching through film. It was supposed to have been rolled out by the end of 2006. Anyone know if it went ahead, or if it fell victim to the policy cycle I just described above?

  11. Many schools are operating on machines with Windows 98 or worse.

    You think that’s bad. My Secondary school has around 25 computers in our computer room. 20 of those have Windows 95. The rest have Windows 2000 and one has xp. The teachers are not trained well enough to teach classes.

    As you probably know Bebo and such social networking sites have been blocked in most school computers, but in ours the teacher doesn’t know how.

    The system is in a state.

  12. Hi Tom,

    I go out to schools too as part of the DERI Outreach program here in Galway and agree its totally depressing.
    So much for our new Knowledge Economy.The Educational system needs to enter the 21st century to keep up with the pace of change and Education starts in the schools.The approach and attitude towards Technology in schools needs to change drastically.

    Ina

  13. Tom: This is an issue mt brother identifies with. He heads up ICT at an English high school. Among other things, the issue appears to be the way UK government plans…3>5 years out. Problem is as we all know the pace of change is much faster than government can keep up with. Kids end up self taught.

  14. John,

    I didn’t realise there was a Technology Leaving Cert subject option – thanks for pointing it out. Is it new?

    Also not all schools are struggling to use ICT

    Sure – in fact the school I visited the other day are doing better than many schools I suspect. However, they are the lucky few and this is despite, instead of because of, the Department of Education!

  15. Hi Tom,

    I didn’t realise there was a Technology Leaving Cert subject option – thanks for pointing it out. Is it new?

    I am not sure to be honest. The department has also revamped other courses to include more ICT content.

    In my experience our teachers, principals and boards of management (who actually run the schools) re very eager to work with ICT experts to improve the overall content. I can safely say that if you offered to speak at any transition year class in the city you would be taken up on it. Now – should that be formalized.. perhaps. Can you do it today – definitely.

    rgds.
    >j

  16. On Leaving Cert Technology
    Technology has been available at Junior Cert since late 80’s early 90’s. It has taken years to get the LC syllabus cleared and up and running. The JC course was one of the few syllabii which had the use of ICTs integral to it (I think also Business Studies). It encouraged the use of CAD and CAM as well as pointing to more straightforward uses such as research and production of reports.
    The problem of course is the provision of equipment. I set up a Tech room in London in 1991ish and the proceedure there was to provide everything that the syllabus needed to be implemented. In 1995ish I did the same job in Ireland and found that there was no difinitive list of what should be provided and I had to compile one myself. Then the funding was capped so I had to radically cut back on the list of necessary items and only provide for a section of the course. (This meant no metal working and limited wood working – I did manage to get 2 computers and a scanner and a printer though!!)
    The government get by because where the course is in a school with traditional “boy” crafts there is already wood and metal facilities. However in traditional “girls” schools all these need to be installed and that is a big cost.
    The way in which Technology is structured (Problem Solving – learn to find a solution) is being taken up by many other subjects and the use of ICTs is also spreading – probably by students realising they can use it for any subject. But with most (lucky) svhools having only one computer lab the timetabling of access will be a tough issue.
    Another issue will also be the effective traing of staff. Many teachers who work hard in schools have been trained before the IT boom and the training provided by the government has been piecemeal. Lack of funding means that many will still have to use acetates for Powerpoint presentations and the pain of trying to get your class into a computer lab on a regular basis will mean that it is easier not to build ICT use into your lesson plans. (I was lucky and could allow the use of computers for all sorts of things as well as using live TV broadcasting and Video camerra work in my lessons.)
    It is strange that whilst we have such a vibrant ICT structure at 3rd level with many/most colleges having multimedia presentation facilities and computer filled rooms that the secondary sector remains impoverished.
    Ah well back to the grindstone….

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