This is a long rant, you have been warned.
I had a very long chat with Seaghan Moriarty of Digilogue on Friday about technology in Schools or rather the complete lack of it. I was coming at this issue with my IrelandOffline hat on and the fact that 60% of schools are getting “broadband” using a satellite dish. The connection is a 512k connection when the minimum dsl connection these days is 1mb. Broadband for boats, for schools. Imagine whole schools are powered with a connection many of us started our broadband lives with. The conversation quickly turned to deeper matters like the fact there are probably more Tesco freebie computers than Government sponsored computers in classrooms and the fact many of the computers are those old Gateway 2000 computers and still run Windows 95. What’s worse again is that most teachers are not skilled in ICT and so don’t know how to look after the computers in the schools. There is no tech support for schools either so each school must fend for themselves.
The bigger issue again though is that there is no proper curriculum for technology in the classroom. Seaghan said education seems to be one of the few areas where nothing has changed in 200 years. Take someone from the 1800s and put them in a class room of today and would they notice they have traveled 200 years into the future? Blackboard, teacher droning on, kids sitting, reading books and looking bored. The same would rarely hold for any other part of our culture. No other industry apart from maybe knitting jumpers has changed. What does this say about education in this country?
People might say that we’ve done very well with the traditional model of education. This is true, we have done, but technology now makes it possible to stimulate the brains in more ways and has been shown the more stimulated a brain, the better chance of educating someone. I find it hard in this day and age that lessons in the classroom are not enriched with video examples or web examples and that kids still need to lug books into school. It’s upsetting that the question part of education is not exercised and I mean the kids questioning, not the teachers trying to catch out the kids. We learn most when exercising our curiosity. Teachers should be finding ways of getting their students passionate and interested in various areas. They should be giving them the basics and then let the kids branch off and discover their own information. Teachers and students should have a pilot and co-pilot relationship. Pilots teaching their co-pilots the basic and once to a specific point in the journey they have the co-pilot take control and choose their destination. From then on in the teacher just gives guidance but the co-pilot has the control.
One of the key skills in the future is not going to be retaining information, but how to find information, how to filter it to be relevant and then how to combine it with existing knowledge and present it. Where’s that being taught in schools? It’s an extra curricular activity which to me is just madness. Why the concern though about a better form of education? Because there are dozens upon dozens of countries who have already seen the future and have made the necessary changes to be a strong force in the future global economies. These countries are going to be producing super-educated kids.
We are losing out in agriculture and manufacturing already and those other companies we are currently attracting will have no issue moving on to another country if they are cheaper and they offer a more skilled workforce. It is only a matter of time before this happens. The free third level education has allowed us to attract more international companies to this country as our workforce is currently valuable to them but these skilled graduates need more and more skills to keep the inward flow going. If primary and secondary schools are not future-proofing the kids then there will be even more pressure on third-level institutes to provide these skills. However these colleges will be trying to cram these skills into a 3-4 year period when graduates in other countries will have 10-15 years experience with these. We’re going to lose.
It seems madness in a way that the group I’m in (IrelandOffline) can make a national issue out of broadband and that we can get so much coverage on radio, TV, and print and yet something that’s massively more important does not get weekly attention. Broadband is important, don’t get me wrong and is crucial to the knowledge economy pipedream but education is ten times more important.
It’s annoying for me that until the chat with Seaghan and additional research I was not aware of the extent of this problem. I don’t think my head was in the sand either. The Government has failed us, as have the opposition for failing to make a huge issue out of this. Others have failed too including teachers and parents and those who have noticed the issue and failed to kick and scream. This isn’t about blame though, it’s about action.
So what would I do? I’d set up a group and have cross-section of all the stakeholders in it. It should be an umbrella group comprised of other groups such as teacher organisations, chambers of commerce type groups, student groups, academic groups, other organisations such as IrelandOffline. They should meet and agree on what needs to be done. Maybe create a plan and then share and pool resources to make this a greater issue. example: IrelandOffline campaigns for broadband but we could easily push how important it is for education. We could help write a document on why broadband for schools is currently failing and what is actually needed. A lot of these organisations need people to point to the clothing that the emperor wears.
I’d field candiates in the election in every single area where the Government are weak and where a change of power could happen. I’d do the same for all the shaky seats by the opposition parties. This is a cross party issue and every party needs to take notice. This should not be an empty threat. Do it and become the king makers. Areas that contain colleges could make a significant impact. Cork South Central where John Dennehy won by less than 20 votes is the perfect example.
Some might say I’m probably not seeing the “big picture” and there are other areas like social welfare and health to be considered too. Go create groups for them too. Education would get me going more than anything else, not that I haven’t opinions on those areas. I’d very much welcome other opinions on education and what is working and what is not and suggestions on how change can be brought about.