I thank the committee for inviting the Department of Education and Skills here today to discuss the use of ICT in primary schools. I work in the ICT policy unit of the Department. I am accompanied by Ms Rita Sexton from the ICT policy unit, and Mr. Martin Whyte, schools divisional inspector. I am also accompanied by Mr. Seán Gallagher, deputy director, Professional Development Service for Teachers, PDST, who has responsibility for technology in education.
We are at a turning point in the use of ICT in the classroom. Digital technologies are now part of everyday life. They are used in the way we live, work, rest and play. They are also increasingly part of the way we approach teaching, learning and assessment. The Department's role is to lead and facilitate schools and teachers in adapting new pedagogies and engaging with students using ICT in a seamless way.
Under the Government's reform agenda for public services, ICT is viewed as having a central role in the provision of better and more effective services. There is a lot of innovation in the use of ICT for school administration and related areas.
I will outline the current position of ICT. In 2013, a census was taken of ICT usage in schools on behalf of the Department of Education and Skills. The results will feed into the forthcoming digital strategy for schools and a report on the census will be published alongside the new strategy shortly.
Some of the main findings from the census in respect of primary schools include the following. In terms of teachers' professional learning, teachers should be enabled to engage in planning their own ICT related professional development and in evaluating their competence in using ICT in teaching, learning and assessment. There is a need for learning modules that address the needs of individual teachers and groups of teachers with differing sets of competencies.
The next heading is learning, teaching and assessment using ICT. The census provides support for the view that, if teachers are traditional in their pedagogical practices, the technology will be used in traditional ways. There is a need to demonstrate how ICT can be incorporated into each curriculum area, and how they can serve to establish links across aspects of the curriculum. Also, teachers need to be supported in using ICT to teach key 21st century skills and need guidance on the use of electronic assessments, including formative assessment.
In terms of research, policy and leaders, there is a need for a more systematic approach to evaluating ICT related initiatives in schools so that all schools and teachers have access to information about their effectiveness. Research should drive policy on ICT usage in schools. There is a need to provide principals with specifically focused continuing professional development, CPD, on how ICT can enhance teaching, learning and assessment at school level.
The data suggest that, in general, teachers are well resourced to use ICT in preparing for and presenting lessons. The use of ICT by pupils could be strengthened by ensuring that all primary schools have access to high-speed broadband and an adequate number of working computing devices and other technologies. Technical support continues to be a significant concern for schools and teachers. The development of ICT infrastructure and its application to teaching and learning would be greatly enhanced if minimum and progressive standards for infrastructure, software, technical support, Internet connectivity and teaching and learning were set out.
In terms of investment, the allocation for ICT in schools area in 2015 is €15.595 million of current funding, which includes costs for primary and post-primary. Of this sum, €3.8 million has been allocated for primary broadband, while €3.7 million has been allocated for the operation of the PDST's technology in education initiative to cover all running costs, including the provision of CPD. As the economy recovers, it would be expected that this investment would increase to address new priorities.
The forthcoming digital strategy for schools will set out a plan to embed ICT in teaching, learning and assessment over the next five years. The strategy is based on extensive research and consultation. It includes the online census of teachers and principals, a public consultation process, focus groups with students, parents, guardians and teachers, and consultations with a variety of stakeholders, including teacher unions, school principals and management bodies.
The strategy will link with other Department strategies dealing with teaching and learning, literacy and numeracy, school self-evaluation, inclusion and public sector reform.
The main themes of the digital strategy are teacher professional learning; learning, teaching and assessment using ICT; leadership, research and policy; and infrastructure. Each of these themes will identify a set of deliverables, including strong leadership provided by the Department to achieve ICT integration. There will be a commitment to embedding digital technology into all CPD programmes across the curriculum. Curriculum relevant digital content will be provided, and the Department will continue to explore and extend the use of ICT for assessment purposes through a range of projects. The strategy will also promote inclusion and success for all learners through the use of ICT. While a national technical support service would not be viable, a range of technical support models will be explored in consultation with schools and relevant partners. The Department will collaborate with the Department of Communications, Energy and Natural Resources on enhanced broadband provision to primary schools. It will provide advice and guidance on fit-for-purpose and future-proof wireless systems for schools. To ensure the effective implementation of the new strategy, we will develop an annual set of funding priorities over its lifetime. These plans will take cognisance of the economic climate and the availability of public funding.
In addition to the developments in the use of ICT in the classroom, there are a number of improvements in the administrative system for schools which are linked with the wider reform agenda. The Department has outlined simplified arrangements for the maintenance of pupil enrolment and attendance records at school level. These arrangements are being further updated with the aim of facilitating schools to maintain their pupil enrolment and attendance records in electronic format. Under current arrangements, the Garda vetting procedure is a manual system. Shortly, the vetting arrangements will operate in electronic format. The purpose of a primary online database is to monitor the progress of children through the education system to ensure every student can meet his or her educational potential and to ensure every child of compulsory school age is in receipt of education. The online claims system enables schools to input details of absences of teachers and special needs assistants.
I thank the committee for its attention. We are happy to respond to any questions the committee might have.