Not such a leap forward

Keith pointed to a doc from the Irish Institute for European Affairs called The Next Leap. I barely agree with any of it. Too much blueskying and sound bites. Too much investing in talking shops and new industry bodies.

Some of the “key action points” from the report and my thoughts.

Commit the funding required to provide sufficient connectivity and equipment to bring Irish schools up to the OECD average, and exempt all school ICT equipment from VAT
Laptops in classrooms is a waste of resources. Laptops outside of school as a policy is needed. Laptops in schools should not be a stepping stone for this. The new whiteboards in schools are already gathering dust in many schools because the basics aren’t being done right. How many Irish speakers do we have because of Irish in school? Putting subjects in digital format does nothing extra. Though it’s a handy number for the sponsors of this report.

Kids need to be thought (ironic I know) taught how to teach themselves, how to discover, how to analyze, how to think. That’s what will get us our knowledge economy. Not HP laptops running Windows.

Support “niche exploration” groups to investigate possible areas of national expertise
Quango quango quango.

Introduce weighted marks at Leaving Certificate level for ICT relevant subjects
Extra points for maths and other subjects to corrupt the system in favour of IBEC like industries? That will get us more kids under pressure to do these subejcts and do honours. More time spent on these than the “easy” subjects. We’ll be in SAT country next instead of a holistic approach. Maths is not education. It will also get more grind schools making lots more money for Maths classes and the like and from it all they’ll do is teach the kids tricks on how to do well in the Leaving Cert, not educate them on the subject. It’s a dog training school that will come out of this.

Establish a Computer Emergency Response Team (CERT) within DCENR

Cos they did so well with our broadband future. Why the hell should tax money be wasted on this?

Re-task RTE as an incubator & developer of media content irrespective of platform
Yes, cos we want the civil service to use even more of our tax money. Let the private sector do this.

Convene a taskforce to discuss an optimal national strategy to promote Ireland as a location for localisation services

Did Dell teach us anything? This is not high-level work. This is grunt work. It can be moved outside of Ireland quickly. Many of the tech companies are already doing so.

21 Responses to “Not such a leap forward”

  1. Johnny Ryan says:

    Half a year ago I sent you an invitation to contribute — your input would have been valuable. The ideas in this report are drawn from the stakeholders who contributed. The point of this report was to represent to Government what people across the Digital Sector wanted to see it do. We will be continuing this work and I hope you will be involved. It was a pity you couldnt make the launch – which you were invited to.

    Anyway, we are thinking of moving ahead, initially, on the concept of a “digital legal services centre”. This could be an IFSC type development from which services such as intellectual property, rights clearance, payments, data protection, retention & privacy etc. could be provided for digital firms operating within the EMEA region – although the conversation at is beginning to suggest that it should have a global scope. See

  2. Adrian says:

    This whole ‘Get Schools In Tune With Industry Needs’ thing is a throwback to some kind of Victorian, Dickensian approach. Three years ago, the BSA (anti-software piracy organisation) got a module (on the wrongness of software piracy) inserted into the secondary school transition year curriculum. And without a peep (okay, except for here:
    The current classrooms-should-be-full-of-computers agenda — which most people seem to support — is a waste of resources, in my view. The basics — and then the development of thought — should be higher up the agenda.

  3. Half a year ago I sent you an invitation to contribute — your input would have been valuable. … It was a pity you couldnt make the launch – which you were invited to.

    Oh looky at the attitude. Lovely sentiment there Johnny. It isn’t my fault that I disagree with your report as suggested by your comments here.

  4. Johnny Ryan says:

    That’s not fair Damien. The point was that you were and are welcome to put your two cents in to this – not as a follow up having heard about the thing from keith, but as a participant having been invited from the beginning directly by me.

    There is value to people being critical and refining the ideas further on the nextleap blog – that’s the whole point – and I want you to get stuck in. (I wasnt taking a shot at you.)

  5. My apologies then Johnny, I was in error. I’ll try and provide feedback directly in the next round.

  6. Ciara says:

    The last point makes me fume. Localisation, as you say, is a dead end. And a dangerous dead end that a lot of IT graduates got stuck in after college. Few serious development companies will touch someone with 4 or 5 years localisation experience, especially in QA, even if they are highly skilled. Most people have to train up in project management or out of IT entirely to survive after their localisation jobs are inevitably shipped out.

    I speak from personal experience.

  7. Johnny Ryan says:

    Ciara – good point. The idea was SaaS would spark a boom in this field (see – and ideally that high level and sensitive work that might not be outsourced other juristictions because of the requirement for a stable legal/regulatory environment would provide high value jobs. Is this line of thinking a dead duck?

  8. Keith says:

    Damien – I know you’re dead set against laptops in schools, but my aim would be that all students should get extensive exposure to computers both at home in their leisure time and at school when working.
    The best way I can see to do both of those things at the same time is to issue laptops.
    Now, there’s a seperate point about whether giving people access to computers and teaching them to use them is desirable in and of itself. I think that it is. I think that having the most computer literate society in the world would be of benefit to us in the future, particularly for attracting jobs, and I think we’re a long way from it today (per my experiences with business studies students in WIT).

  9. Keith says:

    Addendum – of course, you have to make the curriculum and teacher training changes to have any technology (including whiteboards) used properly. That needs to be done concurrently or, perferably, in advance.

  10. Ciara says:

    Yeah, I actually work as a developer in a SaaS environment, after years as a localisation software engineer. I had to move into configuration management before I could convince a software house to hire me. I see localisation moving to outsourced translation – software houses are moving away from using localisation specialists and concentrating on becoming better at internationalisation and separating text from code at source. Localisation then becomes merely translation, and off it goes to Eastern Europe/APAC, sensitive or not. Money talks.

    I like some of the other ideas you mention, but you won’t convince me back into localisation, I’m afraid 🙂

  11. I think that having the most computer literate society in the world would be of benefit to us in the future

    How many schools teach Bebo? How many school kids know it inside out? Digital literacy will not come from an initiative inside a school. We will never be the most computer literate society in the world because of laptops in schools. We’re not the best country for speaking our own native language despite it being taught from day one in school, all the way to college and extra points if you sit your Junior Cert and Leaving Cert in Irish.

    Forget computer literate, why not aim for literate full stop? Aiming for the top ten in the world for literacy seems more important surely?

  12. Johnny Ryan says:

    Damien, the most important thing we heard from stakeholders was exactly that

    Here’s the bad news: The Department of Education Inspectorate’s 2008 report on ICT in Schools found that almost a third of primary school students in classes surveyed were computer illiterate to the extent that they were incapable of connecting to the Internet or of printing a document.

    Even worse news…

    The National Council for Curriculum & Assessment (NCCA) has developed a framework for the use of ICT in schools as a tool for learning – but without the Dept. of Finance and Dept. of Education signing up, it has gone nowhere.

    – see more about this in TREND 1: A Globally Competitive Generation with “Digital Instincts” –

  13. Keith says:

    >Aiming for the top ten in the world for literacy seems more important surely?

    I’m starting from the point of view that we’re already aiming for that.

  14. Johnny Ryan says:

    Ciara, understood. It would be great if you could post that at
    and bring that dimension into the discussion. Thanks – Johnny.

  15. Dermot says:

    Damien good post.

    A number of years ago my better half and some colleagues took some laptops and content from a major IT company and evaluated it for use in Schools (shes a teacher). Their report was damning and effectively said “this is a nice way to sell laptops but does nothing for schools”.

    The IT company’s marketing people basically ignored the proper evaluation of the technology.

    Slowly technology is creeping more into schools – on the basis of value to the teachers and the students. Its based on really good content that helps kids learn not on selling technology. Its done by smart teachers learning from each other and through sites like this

    You’re right on the literacy. We have an adult population that is 20% functionally illiterate.

    The analogy to the Irish language is a good one


  16. @Johnny Yet every school has a computer and a printer and the kids still are computer illiterate? Throwing resources at this will not make a difference. Explain how it will? It just means Microsoft (who launched the report) and others make more money. Just like those whiteboard people.

    I’m starting from the point of view that we’re already aiming for that.

    Are we? I’ve heard that it would be nice, I didn’t see the plan to do this. A computer is a tool, like a garden hoe, pouring millions into a plan to get people to use said hoe in their school environment doesn’t mean that we’ll become the greatest agricultural nation on earth, it means we have a high percentage of school kids who know how to do a few things with a hoe as taught in school. Totally not the same thing.

  17. Johnny Ryan says:

    Re possibility of private sector influnce:

    Paul Rellis, Managing Director of Microsoft, who chaired the event launching the report, did not push me to conclude anything one way or another. Equally, the Tanaiste, who launched the report, didnt have that kind of say ether. I am an indepenent researcher. That’s important to clarify at the outset.

    To get back to your point

    One of the stakeholders made a good point: the level of digital literacy should not be dependent on the level of interest in the home. That’s hard to argue with. Nobody made any particular point about laptops for kids or any thing like that. If you look at the relevant part of the report, on of the suggestions on the equippment side is to exempt all school ICT equipment from VAT. Take a look . It is not too hard to imagine a situation where SDKs are rolled out in the curriculum, stimulating like the young scientists projects.

    Right now there is a problem in a number of areas at third level that are not getting adequate feed of applicants from 2nd level. See the latest reports by the expert group on future skills needs, and this was backed up by stakeholders in larger organisations who said they didnt have enough of a pool in Ireland from which to hire. David O’Meara went on record saying that at an IIEA event a few months ago. So take an area like engineering, for example, for future steve wozniaks, things like this ( at a very young age might be invaluable early stimulants. (That’s just a simple idea, and hardly one to base a curriculum on). The school system has a role to play in national competitiveness.

  18. There is another issue here. Recently I was involved in the development and delivery of a Business Boot Camp initiative, targeted at increasing awareness of entrepreneurship in second level schools.

    As part of that initiative I thought that it would be great to have a social network where students could interact and give feedback on the project generally. With that in mind we put in place a simple Ning site.

    Unfortunately we had to abandon it because most of the schools have policies in place which do not allow their students use social networks on school computers. Apparantly there are issues around bullying with some social networks and hence the situation we encountered.

    Personally I believe that, properly used, social networks, and other web2 technologies, could make a hugely positive impact in a wide variety of educational circumstances, but it is difficult to see how this can happen at present.

    On a more general – and fundamental – issue, I believe we should educate children for their own sake. Do it for the sake of their personal competitiveness and national competitiveness will take care of itself! But…sin sceal eile!

  19. Johnny Ryan says:

    Frank, and everyone, thanks for this feedback.

    Every element of report is open for commenting at so please give in your thoughts on how it could be improved, what we should have asked, and what the next steps should be.

  20. Cormac says:

    @Frank Did you contact the NCTE Helpdesk to request them to unblock the specific URL? The NCTE block Bebo, Facebook, MySpace and YouTube by default but you can ask them to unblock certain sites for educational purposes. Despite this, a lot of teachers are using Web 2.0 in their teaching such as blogs, twitter etc. even though it can only be accessed outside school. For example –

  21. Brian Honan says:

    >Establish a Computer Emergency Response Team (CERT) within DCENR
    I was one of the people who contributed to the report, in particular in the area on information security and the setting up of a CERT.

    The function of a CERT is to provide trusted and independent advice to organisations and individuals on how best to secure their systems against attack from unauthorised people and to provide services to help recover in the event those systems are attacked. Ireland is one of the only countries that does not have a CERT in place

    As we move to base our economy on the “knowledge economy” our country will become more and more dependent on our IT resources and infrastructure. Recent attacks against the national infrastructure of countries such as Estonia demonstrate how effective a coordinated attack can be against critical online services.

    Other countries such as the UK, US, Germany, Australia and New Zealand have also publicly identified repeated attempts at foreign state sponsored industrial espionage against indigenous technology companies.

    It is my belief that if we do not have such a body in Ireland to ensure the security of the Irish Internet space we will leave many individuals, businesses and our economy vulnerable to attack.

    I have campaigned for a number of years to have a trusted, independent and non-commercial entity established to provide such a service in this country. Ideally this should be a state sponsored entity to ensure no commercial or other influences. Whether this body should be located within the Dept of Communications is not the issue. The issue is we should have such a service full stop.

    As a result of lack of progress in this area, late last year I established an independent not-for-profit entity, the Irish Reporting and Information Security Service (IRISS to run a cut down version of a CERT. IRISS provides its services to Irish organisations free of charge. It is run and managed by a core of volunteers who are recognised as some of Ireland’s top experts in information security. Due to the small funding we have we cannot provide the full services that a proper CERT should but we aim to hopefully build up our resources over time.

    Since its inception in early November 2008 IRISS have been instrumental in shutting down two Phishing websites based here in Ireland, helping secure fifteen Irish SSH accounts that had been compromised and dealing with a privacy breach of an Irish online retailer which inadvertently exposed its customer records onto the Internet. IRISS has also alerted subscribers to a phishing attack against Irish credit unions, to a number of domain renewal scams and on numerous critical vulnerabilities in the systems and software they employ within their infrastructures.

    Proper support and funding will ensure that a dedicated CERT is established to provide the above services and more in a more sustainable, responsive and dedicated way.