Published in April 2022, the Digital Strategy for Schools aims to enhance the role of technological devices and ensure that the next generation of students is equipped with the necessary skillset for Ireland to prosper in a digitalised world.
The strategy, which has been put in place in the context of the EU Digital Action Plan, seeks to build on the previous digital strategy for schools, which dictated policy between 2015 and 2020.
In the strategy document, the visions and aims of are stated as:
• ensuring all learners will be supported to reach their full potential;
• supporting pupils to have appropriate and equal access to digital technologies, in particular individuals at risk of educational disadvantage and those with additional learning needs;
• digital technology becomes as much a core part of the education journey as basic literacy and numeracy skills are, with a deliberate and increased use of digital technology in teaching, learning, and assessment; and
• teachers are supported to further embed the use of digital technologies in their classrooms to support all learners in a safe, responsible, and ethical way.
In the previous strategy, €210 million was spent on overhauling the ICT infrastructure in place in schools in the State, in addition to an allocation of €13 million in broadband connectivity enhancement.
As a result, all post-primary education settings in the State, according to the strategy document, are equipped with high-speed broadband with a connectivity speed of at least 200 Mbps. This has not been achieved in primary schools, where there is an aim of getting connectivity of at least 100 Mbps for all primary school settings by 2023.
Upon introduction of the new strategy, Minister for Education Norma Foley TD stated: “The digital landscape is a dynamic and changing environment. The strategy indicates the need to build awareness of new and emerging technologies and how we must be prepared to take advantage of the benefits and opportunities they bring.”
“The digital landscape is a dynamic and changing environment. The strategy indicates the need to build awareness of new and emerging technologies and how we must be prepared to take advantage of the benefits and opportunities they bring.”
Norma Foley TD, Minister for Education
The strategy’s first pillar is that of supporting embedding digital technologies in teaching, learning, and assessment.
“Supporting our teachers to strengthen their confidence and competence in using digital technologies in teaching, learning and assessment in schools, to ensure all learners develop the digital skills necessary to navigate a complex digital world,” the document states.
It further outlines a role in tandem, aimed at supporting school leaders to guide and build capacity and increase teacher confidence through appropriate teacher professional learning (TPL). It is hoped that this will ensure appropriate developmental learning experiences for all learners to enable them to develop adequate digital competence.
It is additionally explained that these innovations will be informed by learning from the experience of Covid-19 to better realise the effective use of digital technologies in teaching, learning, and assessment across the entire curriculum.
The second pillar is that of ensuring that the required digital infrastructure is in place to ensure the adequate digital upskilling required for the next generation of school pupils.
The strategy aims to commit to “build on the progress made to date” to ensure that all schools are served with high-speed broadband connectivity and appropriate infrastructure to support teachers and learners to realise the benefits from the use of digital technologies in classroom activities including technical support and procurement frameworks.
The importance of strong digital infrastructure was highlighted during the Covid-19 pandemic when students had to learn remotely. Whilst there has been calls for further funding of €200 million to support digital infrastructure, in addition to the €210 million allocated in the previous strategy, the nature of how students will be able to avail of the kind of technology used during the pandemic lockdowns is not precisely outlined.
The third and final pillar of the strategy is a long-term one, ensuring that the policy, research, and digital leadership required is in place in order to ensure that the strategy is adaptable to the emergence of new technologies.
The first objective is to establish sustainable policies to guide further progress for the use of digital technologies in schools, leveraging work underway in other relevant strategies to ensure that all learners develop their digital competence.
Supporting schools and school leaders in terms of the ethical and safe use of the internet will be key to this, and will require engagement with schools on how to disseminate ongoing research to identify opportunities and challenges of emerging technologies for the education sector.
This will include adoption of relevant international and EU initiatives including the EU DEAP in order to ensure that “research and supports can be considered and adopted for the Irish context” and disseminated to the system.
The document further outlines aims to enhance the use of technology in ensuring that parents can feel closer to the process and that communication can be facilitated in an efficient manner without adding undue workload to the student.