A recent evaluation report prepared by the Department's inspectorate based on case studies in more than 50 schools, inspections in more than 180 schools and survey evidence from almost 1,400 teachers, 900 principals and 900 students, studied the impact of ICT on teaching and learning in Irish primary and post-primary schools.
The report noted the significant improvements in reducing the student to computer ratio since the commencement of specific ICT funding initiatives for schools. It found that in the main schools make effective use of ICT grants provided by the Department to develop their ICT systems. It also shows that most schools have an ICT plan and an acceptable use policy in place. The report also indicated that the majority of teachers use ICT in lesson planning and preparation and acknowledges that large numbers of teachers are participating in continuing professional development courses in ICT.
The inspectorate's evaluation, however, recorded limited integration of ICT in the classroom at primary level. The evaluation found the use of ICT in primary schools is currently focused on developing students' numeracy, reading and writing skills and that it is also used in social, environmental and scientific education. The inspectors recommend wider use of ICT across the curriculum. If we are to successfully meet the challenge of providing our school-going children with the skills they require for the future, we must invest now in transforming schools into e-learning environments.
Apart from the investment in broadband for schools some years ago, the last major investment in ICT was during the IT 2000 project and the recent announcement by the Minister. Many computers in schools were too old by the time broadband was introduced and are certainly long past their sell-by date by now.
We know the importance of ICT back-up in this House but our primary schools, where a teacher could be dealing with up to 30 pupils, have no technical backup. In Ireland, we have many of the most important ICT companies and we have not sufficiently tapped into the partnership possibilities that exist with them. ICT equipment is getting less expensive, as is software. Schools need new ICT equipment, adequate broadband, technical support services and pedagogical guidance. There is an immediate need to provide new equipment and technical support. The strategy group recommends that the requirement be met by front-loading investment in these areas in the first three years of the national development plan period.
Achieving a desirable level of ICT usage in all schools depends on a number of critical, interconnected factors — teacher education and professional development to leverage the benefits of new learning technologies; the ready availability of appropriate digital content and content tools; sufficient computers and support ICT equipment in schools; adequate and robust broadband provision; technical support and maintenance of a high standard; structures to implement and support the investment; and support for effect-focused and learning age suitable ICT equipment.
It is recognised that schools will vary in their requirements for and expectations of ICT. To identify desirable baseline levels of ICT provision and equipment for schools, the strategy group recommends that schools adopt the recommended ICT configurations for the development of e-learning strategies and their future implementation. All classrooms should be networked to include between five and eight service points of access, with two at the teacher's desk and four to six for the students. Ideally schools should work towards eventually having a 5:1 pupil teacher computer ratio in classrooms.
To facilitate greater ICT integration at primary level, computers should be located in classrooms rather than in dedicated computer rooms. Large primary schools may choose to maintain their computer rooms. At post-primary level, a mix of locations is appropriate and should include both classroom computers and computer rooms. All classrooms should have a fixed digital projector and teaching computer with a wireless keyboard and wireless mouse. All computers in the schools should be networked and broadband enabled. Ready access should be available to a range of digital devices such as digital cameras and digital video cameras.
Access should be available to a mobile laptop trolley supporting between ten and 30 laptops capable of linking to the school network and the Internet, one for small schools and two for large schools. There should be a mobile multimedia station in every school with integrated digital media features to enable content creation, editing and production, recording and duplication. Resource rooms and learning support areas should be equipped with networked internet-ready computers and digital projectors, where appropriate.