Irish Study

Undertaken by Mr Trevor Murphy MSc

‘To examine the usage of computing to aid learning in Irish primary schools’.

Abstract

The purpose of this study is to investigate and examine the usage of computing skills to aid general learning in Irish primary schools. The main aspects are to investigate present structures, whilst also ascertaining how competitive advantage with respect to educational core competencies can be developed or if they are present, how they can be enhanced. Thereafter the author will benchmark the Irish primary education syllabus against our closest neighbour the United Kingdom’s (UK) educational sector, to gauge, is there differences in the approach/structure? Upon any variances in the findings to this question the author will, explore what are these differences?

This dissertation begins with a brief history of the offerings of the Irish government to introduce and integrate ICT Skills into the primary schools curriculum. This is conducted by examining, the past, the present and the future with respect to plans and policies from all relevant government bodies with direct relation to the subject area. Another aim of this dissertation is to ascertain the attitudes of the government at policy level and the school principals at ground level. These findings will allow the author to truly grasp what is happening now and what may happen in the future. The four research objectives are identified and when combined will ensure a whole, grounded view is captured.

The literature review starts by focusing on the usage of ICT Skills / computing within primary education and development including their links to positive progressive aspects of education. Thereafter examining the broader scope, investigating the views of world and European practices, this was accomplished by researching the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) and European Schoolnet (ES). Subsequently narrowing the research to focus on the UK before lastly exploring what is happening in Ireland. The methodology used to collect primary data is surveys/questionnaires along with   semi-structured interviews; which was decided after vigilant examination of a number of qualitative and quantitative methods. Semi-structured interviews were considered to be most appropriate for surveying the attitudes of a randomly stratified selection of primary schools principals.

The data analysis method chosen is content analysis. The primary research results are presented in chapter four. The main finding was that 100% of respondent’s schools participated in some form of ICT Skills delivery. The response rate was 28% thus unfortunately the true extent of ICT Skill / computing was not defined by this study. The survey showed that 30% of respondent schools used dual devices, namely laptops and iPads, whilst the remaining 70% used laptops as their single device for delivery. The survey uncovered many negative findings, 100% of the surveyed participants replied that they received no funding, from any government body with respect to computing / ICT Skills training. 60% of surveyed participants stated they received no syllabus direction or support, this is totally contradictory to what government polices state is happening. The findings of interviews showed a clear consensus was present with respect to all the questions and discussions. The final chapters draw together the main themes of the research and documents proposed changes and recommendations for the present educational structure with respect to the full integration of ICT Skills and computing.

  1. Introduction

“Technology is just a tool. In terms of getting the kids working together and motivating them, the teacher is most important”.

(Gates, 2012: p.1)

The purpose of this study is to investigate and examine the usage of computing skills to aid general learning in Irish primary schools. Also investigating present structures to ascertain how competitive advantage with respect to educational core competencies can be further developed. Whilst, benchmarking the Irish primary education syllabus against our closest neighbour and industry rival namely, the United Kingdom (UK) educational sector to investigate,

  1. Is there differences in the approach/structure? And if so,
  2. What are these differences?

For the purpose of this study the author defines ‘computing’ as the usage of technology devices: namely laptops, desktops, tablets and mobile device and ‘skills’ as Information and Communication Technology (ICT) and computer coding/programming.

An examination of key documents and papers will aid the author in the investigation of,

  1. What happened in the past?
  2. What is happening now?
  3. What are the plans for the future?

1.1 The Research Question  

‘To examine the usage of computing to aid learning in Irish primary schools’.

1.2 What is “Computing”?

Computing is the study of how computers and computer systems work, how they are constructed and programmed, and the foundations of information and computation. Not only is computing extraordinary useful, but is also intensely creative, and suffused with visceral (“it works!”) and intellectual (“that is so beautiful”) excitement.

(CSWG, 2009: p3)

1.3 Computing is a discipline

Mathematics and physics similarly to computing are disciplines, exploring foundational principles and ideas, such as algorithms for discovering the shortest paths in graphics or understanding approaches to flow controls. This differs from technology and skills such as the ability to use Excel which align with ICT elements. ICT involves exploring and developing skills for using popular applications, thereafter developing in the direction of business processes and organisations. ICT also covers areas such as systems management and integration, computer networks and creating basic websites.

There is an underlying confusion between IT as a fundamental life-skill and “enabler‟ in the teaching of all subjects, and computing as a scientific discipline, with the present balance skewed towards teaching ‘software use’. Students should be encouraged to explore what goes on behind the IT applications they use, from social networking and messaging tools, to computer graphics and computer games.

(Royal Academy of Engineering, 2009: p5)

1.4 The content of Computing

  • The study of data structures and algorithms – understanding ingenious and efficient ways to solve computational problems.
  • Understanding computer systems and networks – how the internet works and protocols.
  • The challenges of human-computer interaction – focus on making computers accessible to people.
  • How computers work – understand gates, binary arithmetic plus digital hardware.

1.5 Computing is not all about computers

In all areas the student must understand the interaction of theory, design and experimentation. Computing is a mixture/blend of engineering, science, mathematics and technology. Computing is not just alone programming, but an importance most be placed on the working knowledge of programming. Programming within education demonstrates creativity, problem solving, logic and sequencing, this in turn aids students develop personal, learning and problem-solving skills which will aid all elements of a modern school curriculum.

1.6 Rationale

The rationale of this chosen topic was formed by numerous conversations the author had with primary school principals and parents, through his role as a lead mentor in a Coderdojo and Kids Coding Club. With respect to the school principals, their lack of knowledge within the stated areas was very transparent. ‘Why is this the case’? With respect to the parents, their desire to have their children exposed to the said areas. ‘Why is this the case’?  In the author’s view, this topic may have validity for further research, for the purpose of this study the following will be explored.

1.7  Aims & Objectives          

  1. Ascertain, identify and highlight the present structure of the Irish primary schools with respect to computing usage to aid learning.
  2. Identify and highlight the educational sectors understanding of their core competencies.
  3. Bench mark the Irish primary schools syllabi against the UK with respect to computing to aid learning.
  4. Consider if computing should be an embedded part of our primary educational syllabus?

1.8 Methodology to be used

The sample space used is the primary schools in Co. Wexford, of which there are 106 catering for 17,899 children (Appendix A). The target audience is the primary school principals. The principals were chosen as there are no assigned computer/ICT teachers in the primary schools sector. The author will conduct one-to-one interviews with an appropriately sized target audience. A full survey will thereafter be carried out via a questionnaire and target the 106 principals.

This dissertation will follow a combined quantitative and qualitative research strategy.

1.9 Preview

The author will investigate present structures to ascertain how competitive advantage can be gained with respect to educational core competencies.

The first initial offering with respect to computer usage in Irish education system began in the 1970’s (Murray, 2004), these computers were not student friendly being large and expensive. The 1980’s ICT courses for teachers were run to facilitate the introduction of more user friendly computer. The early 1990’s showed a vast contrast between Irish educational system and their European neighbours, this lead to a more proactive approach by the government towards the development of programmes to close this gap. In 1997, the government launched the ‘Schools IT 2000’ (DES, 1997) and the ‘Blueprint for the Future 2001’ developed by the National Centre for Technology in Education (NCTE, 2001) which was the initial offering to address the integration of ICT skills into primary schools. ‘How successful were these initiatives’?

Presently there is no support for computing/ICT in Irish primary schools for infrastructure/hardware, funding/support or teaching training funding/support. The author therefore believes that good intentions and policies alone cannot fix this problem.

The author has identified the following present initiatives as the most up-to-date. The ‘ICT Action Plan 2012’(DES, 2012) and the ‘ICT Skills Action Plan 2014 – 2018’ (DES, 2013) and will therefore, explore these initiatives in more detail. In the literature review the author will also investigate the plans of the Professional Development Service for Teachers (PDST), Computers in Education Society of Ireland (CESI) and the Digital Strategy for schools – Computing for our Future (DES). Also, by reviewing areas of relevance and importance on a broader scope examining the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) and the European Schoolnet (ES) to investigate the curriculum and ICT policies of other countries.

1.10 The Past

The Irish government has laid out many plans to try ensure the Irish education sector has integration with the computing sector. The author will not go in depth with dated reports such as ‘Schools IT 2000’ (DES, 1997) plus the ‘Blueprint for the Future’ (NCTE, 2001), but will make a brief comparison with the direction from present publications such as ‘ICT Action Plan 2012’ (DES, 2012) and the ‘ICT Skills Action Plan 2014 – 2018’ (DES, 2013).

Technological skills are increasingly important for advancement in education, work, and leisure. The curriculum integrates ICT into the teaching and learning process and provides children with opportunities to use modern technology to enhance their learning in all subjects

(DES, 1999: p.29)

1.11 Schools IT 2000

This was launched in 1997, and was terminated at the end of 2001. The government committed 40 million IR£ (€50,789,523) whilst Eircom invested 10 million IR£ (€12,697,380), to ensure that all schools in Ireland had Internet access. The core aim of this programme was to ensure all schools were exposed to the development of IT skills

The objectives of the Schools IT 2000 report were as follows:

  1. An ICT coordination unit in the DES to act on behalf of the department on all matters relating to ICT.
  2. The NCTE to devise policy proposals and advice the department on policy issues.
  3. A Schools IT 2000 base in the education centres to provide regional support for the teachers.

(DES, 1997: p.5)

1.12 The Present

Ireland is now part of a global technology wave, hosting elements of both indigenous and multinational companies such as Iricent Limited, Geopal Solutions, Ocuco, Snapfile, Donedeal, Google, Microsoft, Dell, Oracle, Apple, Intel, Adobe, Facebook, Hewlett Packard and many other Information Technology (IT) related and non-related companies.

The author will examine documents from the previously highlighted areas to explore the measures and direction stated with respect to the Irish primary school sector.

The ‘ICT Skills Action Plan 2014 – 2018’ (DES, 2013) was launched by the then Minister for Education and Skills, Mr. Ruairi Quinn T.D. in conjunction with the Minister for Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation, Mr. Richard Burton T.D in December 2013.

By working in a collaborative way across Government, with state agencies in the education sector and industry, we will ensure that the ICT sector in Ireland continues to thrive with benefits for everyone in our society

                                                (Ruairi Quinn T.D. DES, 2013: p.1)

This policy was a follow up to the ‘ICT Action Plan 2012’ (DES, 2012) which focused on the following areas:

  1. Upskilling and conversion responses.
  2. Attracting more students to ICT.
  3. Improving retention and quality.
  4. Alignment of higher education programmes to changing needs.
  5. Meeting the Targets.

(DES, 2012: pps.5-7)

1.13 The Future

Minister Ruairi Quinn T.D., states in the ICT Skills Action Plan 2014 -2108, that the aim of the government is to ensure students are equipped with the necessary skills to live and compete for the jobs within the growing ICT sector. Whilst continuing to attract global leaders in all sectors to these shores. The government has identified the need to ensure today’s children are not only computer literate but highly qualified and ICT competent.

In 2013, Minister Ruairi Quinn T.D. stated in the said report that there are few drivers which will be more important to global job creation in the coming years than the development of ICT skills and laid out the following targets into the following 7 areas.

 

 

  1. ICT: strategic sector for Ireland.
  2. Identifying the skills needs of the industry.
  3. Responding to industry needs: the 2012 Action Plan.
  4. Building on the momentum: scope of the new plan.
  5. A collaborative approach between government and industry.
  6. Making Ireland a global leader for ICT talent.
  7. Making it happen: implementation structures.

(DES, 2013: pps. 5-8)

Within this report the author will focus on Delivery Team 2, from the ICT Skills Action Plan 2014 -2108, ICT awareness and capacity in the education system – Work program actions 8 – 20.

1.14 Conclusion

From the review of the earlier policies, funding was a key enabler. ‘Where it was to be targeted’? ‘How it was to be used’? The later policies these being the ‘ICT Skills Action Plan 2012’ (DES, 2012) and ‘The ICT Skills Action Plan 2014 – 2018’ (DES, 2013) are far from specific with respect to funding and usages. A vast difference in approach is noted by the author between the 2000, 2001 and the 2012, 2014 – 2018 reports. These differences will be highlighted in the following literature review. These reports will be reviewed in depth to assess their position for primary schools resources against the published UK policies.

The author notes at this point that throughout the ‘2012’ and ‘2014 – 2018’ reports, it cannot be found where the papers reference to planning and integration of computing / ICT skills into the Irish primary schools sector. Nor do they at any point discuss the option of integration of computing into the primary school syllabus.

The author is keen to discover what the government plan to do with respect to computing in the primary school sector.  If they do have plans?  How they plan to implement them? He believes that the Irish primary school sector is the starting point for success with respect to any national computing / ICT Action Plan. Children’s minds are like sponges, absorbing new concepts and ideas without fear or prejudiced. It is critical that within these key formative years, Irish children are exposed to computing in order to develop a competitive national work force of the future.

1.15 Road Map to Dissertation

This dissertation will consist of six chapters and numerous appendices.

Chapter 1 – Introduction: This was written to give the reader an overview and an understanding of the aims and origins of the research issue.  Outlining the main research objectives and exploring the issues that may exist for computing in the primary school sector in Ireland.

Chapter 2 – Literature Review: The main areas of the research will be identified from the literature review focusing on the four stated research objectives.

Chapter 3 – Methodology: The author will explain the methodology used, also explain data gathering and analysis, thereafter justify the selected research methodologies.

Chapter 4 – Findings: Here the author will discuss the results and findings of the research.  The research findings under a qualitative method will be explained and related to the original research objectives.

Chapter 5 – Discuss: This discussion will link to theory & past research on the topic – theoretical significance, methodological issues encompass the findings.

Chapter 6 – Conclusion and Recommendations: The author will list conclusions and make recommendations as to how computing could be implemented in Irish primary schools.

  1. Literature Review

“When faced with a steam-rolling technology, you either become part of the technology or part of the road!”

(Willetts, 2013: p.1)

2.1 Introduction

The following literature review is a summary of the major concepts, issues and arguments related to the topic, the examination of the usage of computing to aid learning in Republic of Ireland (ROI) primary schools.

This element of the dissertation will assess what is known whilst not turning this review into a simple laundry list. This will be ensured by providing concise data evaluation and by determining relevant literature, which has provenance and objectivity to the chosen topic. A selection of literature which also makes a significant contribution to the understanding of the topic is presented. This will be achieved by examining strengthens and weaknesses from within the field of study.

The scope of this literature review starts with a broad overview by examining the views and position of the OECD with respect to computing and ICT integration in schools, thereafter looking at what is happening within Europe through the Schoolnet (ES) movement. The author will review the UK primary syllabi and finally, finish on what is happening in Ireland.  The author will provide an overview of key ideas by comparing and contrasting the works of key authors. This is followed by the reduction of the most relevant work, ensuring that detailed accounts are provided, whilst giving fresh insights to issues from the research.

All of the selected materials was obtained from academic journals, text books, conference papers and published reports. The author will critically evaluate the methodology and publications in the chosen field, whilst summarising the existing research on the stated topic. This is followed by articulating where the area is at present and highlight gaps and issues.

The main arguments which have been developed by the author within the review and gaps found will be summarised at the chapter ending.

2.2 The Research question – What is being examined?

‘To examine the usage of computing to aid learning in Irish primary schools.’

Research objectives

  • Ascertain, identify and highlight the present structure of the Irish primary schools with respect to computing usage to aid learning.
  • Identify and highlight the primary education sectors understanding of their core competencies.
  • Bench mark the Irish primary schools syllabi against the UK system with respect to computing to aid learning.
  • Consider if computing should be an embedded part of our primary educational syllabus?

2.3 An Overview

As far back as 1998, the OECD began research into ICT integration within schools. Within this time period all-developed countries began to accept, and recognise the importance of computing and ICT skills to aid learning. Thereafter, starting to develop and implement plans to introduce ICT skills into schools by trying to ensure that their schools had operational networks thereby allowing their students Internet access. They also recognised the importance of investment with respect to hardware and infrastructures, technical support, educational software and ICT competency for teachers.

Two key performance indicators (KPI) for success of the integration and development of ICT in the education system were identified:

  1. ICT adoption is an ongoing process and not just a technical implementation process.
  2. Teachers are central to this process and the use of ICT.

(Mulkeen, 2004: p.46)

Whilst these key points are now dated, the author still believes these KPIs are central to the issue of the integration of technology into schools. The initial preliminary primary research highlighted that in 2015, these areas were not implemented correctly with respect to longevity, however primary schools now have no clear guidance and/or support with respect to IT infrastructure, technical support, educational software, ICT direction and delivery for teachers.

‘Why is this the case’? Governments come and go thus focus and support changes direction but this should not be the case with respect to long-term direction to achieve competitive advantage and building on core competences.

Porter (1985), states competitive advantage is what ensures an organisation can remain as a going concern and increase productivity. Porter acknowledges that organisations experience competitive advantage when its actions in an industry create economic value and when few competing firms are engaging in similar actions.

The Irish government regardless of who is in power need to view the education sector more as an industry, by continuously reviewing and benchmarking outputs to ensure results are not simply on parity with their rivals but become leaders with the sector. Porter is also a firm believer in sector core competency understanding.

Barney (2011: p45) states competitiveness of an organisation is its capacity to achieve its targets. ‘What targets have our government set for the educational sector and how do they rank these results?’ Barney explains that competitive organisations can be measured by both objective and subjective criteria. Objective criteria include return on investment, market share, profit and sales revenue. Subjective criteria include enhanced reputation with customers, suppliers, and competitors, and improve quality of delivered services.

‘Should the following keys point not have been included in this’?

  1. The setup of a clearly define central body which is independent from the influence of government change.
  2. The development and implementation of a clearly define change management programme.
  3. A defined definition of result ranking and a clearly defined benchmarking criteria.       

Previous researchers have commended the government for policy developments and funding initiatives. Mulcahy (2005) stated in her thesis ‘An analysis of Teachers use of ICT in a selection of Irish schools’ that the Irish Government responded well to the challenges of bringing Ireland in line with its European neighbours with respect to ICT integration in education. The author feels the following needs to be considered with respect to computing in education. Should we be happy that we are catching up to be on parity? Do we as a nation not understand competitive advantage? Should we not look to be trend setters and leaders within the usage of computing and ICT skills in our schools?

This 2005 thesis further highlights the ‘National Development Plan 2000 – 2006’ where the government pledged €2.1 billion to educational and training infrastructures in new equipment, facilities, and IT. The author is currently working with primary and post primary schools aiding development of bespoke computing programmes, teaching these said programmes and implementing modular computational approaches.

From the authors first-hand experience the present position of schools with respect to infrastructure, support and guidance is far from acceptable as each entity has none of these stated elements. Schools work with dated components and systems. Principals and teachers understand the importance of the computing and ICT skills areas, but in most cases when they are trying to address the issue of implementation they do not know what approach should be taken.

The review of current literature shall begin with the examination of up to date relevant publications from the OECD, Schoolnet Europe and the UK educational syllabus. The review will then include the Irish position, by examining the Department of Education and Skills (DES), National Centre for Technology in Education (NCTE), Professional Service Development for Teachers (PSDT), Computers in Education Society of Ireland (CESI) and the National Council for Curriculum and Assessment (NCCA).

2.4 OECD an overview

The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development

Information and Communication Technology (ICT) has developed rapidly over the past 40 years. ICT has influenced almost all aspects of our lives and has changed the way we communicate, work and socialise. Education plays a key role in ensuring that everyone can reap the benefits of our technology-rich world, as well as help mitigate some of the risks.

(OECD, 2014: p12)

The OECD 2014 report states that the world as we know it, is not changing but has changed. New technologies have not just changed our professional lives but also our private lives.  Computers, laptops, tablets and smartphone devices are not only part of our everyday life but now have become more the norm with children who have embraced the new technology push innovations. These devices should also be attributing to our children’s education but this is seemingly not the case. In 2005, the Internet for business and private customers was at a comparable size. However, by 2011, private account usage was more than that of business usage.

Figure1: Global IP Traffic, 2005 – 2011

Source: Cisco VNI. OECD Communications Outlook 2013 (OECD, 2013a).

The second digital divide noted by the OECD examines from access to usage and the correlation between individuals who moved to embrace a technology-rich world and those who have been left behind. The adult skill OECD survey concluded that parts of the adult population have insufficient ICT problem-solving skills, meaning that they either failed the assessment or were unable to take part because they had never used a computer. Ireland does not reflect well within this survey, with up to 32% of the adult population falling into the category of insufficient skill versus our nearest industry rival the UK which has only 14%. The author notes that these figures provide even more proof of the importance for Irish primary school children to be exposed to a structured computing / ICT syllabi as from these figure the skill sets or capabilities in half the cases across Ireland are not present.

Figure2: Proficiency in problem solving in technology-rich environments among adults (16-69)

Source: Survey of Adult Skills (PIAAC) (2012), Table A2.10a

Given that a large proportion of jobs now require people to have some basic IT skills, it is extremely important to address the adult issue and imperative to ensure our children are fully ICT literate to ensure a prosperous future for our country and its citizens.

2.5 OECD – What do teachers know about new technologies?

Teachers play a critical, and central roles in providing generations of students with relevant ICT skills. The 2013 ‘Teaching and Learning survey’ OECD (2013) concluded that teacher’s rank ICT skills development as their second most development need. This report also showed that age neutrality was present in the survey as teachers of all ages reported a need to improve their ICT skills.

A 2013 survey (European Schoolnet, 2013) revealed that students taught by teachers with confident levels of ICT skill but low access to systems report more usage of ICT when compared to students taught by teachers with low ICT ability but few obstacles to usage.  Which category do our teachers fall into? The author would generally place them unfortunately into the second category due mainly to his research within the area to date but there are always exceptions.

Teachers want and need to be convinced as to what works in the classroom, and how they could use technology to achieve these goals (European Schoolnet, 2013) Is our government providing this direction?

2.6 Is ICT changing the way we learn?

Undeniably, ICT change aspects of lives, one key question for education policy makers is how we apply these changes to the way our children learn. Innovation and collaborative learning are one of the many benefits of the integration of ICT into schools. Virtual schools now can at as an aid to teachers to deliver structured lesson plans. The Khan academy seeks to provide free, education for everyone. The website www.khanacademy.oryallows open access to educational resources with more than 100,000 practical problems and 6,000 short lectures.

2.7 What does the future hold for education?

Presently, it is difficult to measure the gains of computing and ICT learning methods. It brings immediate openness, collaboration and windows of opportunities for trying different things in education. E-twinning is a programme exploring different schools from different European countries coming together promoting sharing of resources, ideas and project collaborations. The flipped classroom take the traditional model and inverts it, by using technology to deliver lectures in the evening which can be linked to homework, thus saving teaching resources.

2.8 The OECD in Summary

Primary education can become more closely linked to the real world by taking advantages of new technologies and learning opportunities. An investment in the ICT skills of teachers and aiding with ‘what works’ and ‘when’ is imperative. New technologies come with new dangers, thus awareness must be a priority. Always working towards the closing of the digital divide.

2.9 European Schoolnet – A European View

As members of the European Union (EU) while continuing to stand alone and focus on attracting as many technology companies as possible, our main attractiveness is based on our current corporate tax stance and this alone is not a good strategy. Yes, we need to ensure this remains in place but coupled with a highly qualified computing and ICT workforce, being continuous refreshed and updated by our universities, colleges and school systems.

The following results of the ‘Survey of Schools: ICT in Education’ (ES, 2013) which was funded by the European Commission Directorate General Information Society and Media and undertaken by European Schoolnet and the University of Liège, Belgium. This survey was based on over 190,000 responses consisting of students, teachers and head teachers in 27 European countries.

The digital world is not just about machines and microchips: it’s about giving people the tools to make their lives better, achieve their dreams and maximise their opportunities. Soon 90% of jobs could require digital skills: yet not enough Europeans are getting them. If teachers are themselves more confident using ICT, they can better inspire the next generation.

(Kroes 2013, citied in European Schoolnet 2013)

2.10 The findings indicates that

  • Confident in student’s digital competence arise when they have high access to ICT at home and at school compared to students having high access only at home.
  • ICT frequency use is highest when students are taught by digitally confident and supportive teachers, regardless of equipment levels.
  • ICT literate teachers and school principals are positive about ICT use – for retrieving information, performing exercises and practice, and learning in an autonomous and collaborative way.
  • Around 70% of students are taught by teachers who have learnt about ICT in their own time. Most teachers still use ICT first and foremost to prepare their teaching and fewer use technology with students in lessons.

The above summary of findings correlate with the views of the OECD 2014 report with respect to the positive outcomes of computing and ICT to aid learning. This survey also highlights the fact that still in 2015 most teachers are self-taught with respect to computing and ICT competency.

This Schoolnet 2013 report makes excellent realistic and practical recommendations for policy makers at local, national and European levels. European Schoolnet’s Executive Director, Marc Durando, states that policies are required to aid the development of digitally supportive schools and digital supportive teachers. He further states that policy makers and principals should focus on measures at school level to support the use and integration of computing and ICT in the classroom and invest in capacity building through new training models.

How should Ireland policy makers and principals in Ireland move forward to ensure this happens? Both the OECD and Schoolnet concur that teachers are the pivotal driver on which the success of the integration of computing and ICT to aid learning. Marc Durando highlights the fact that evidence from international studies illustrate that on-the-job training, online learning communities, and cooperation between teachers at school level are effective and preferred by teachers to other approaches.

Policies are easily written, the challenge comes from the development, implementation and monitoring of a coherent, usable computing and ICT skills syllabus.

2.11 Computing integration in the UK: Primary school Element

Within four years the UK went from a study (in 2009) to the full rollout of computing from age 5 to age 18 (in 2014) within their school curriculum. Following a Royal Society sponsored report ‘Shutdown or Restart’ (RAE, 2012) conducted by the Royal Academy of Engineering along with the ‘Computer Science: A curriculum for schools’ compiled by the Computing at Schools Working Group (CSWG, 2012) report. The decision to introduce computing as a subject at all levels was not alone acted on, with direction, syllabus, implementation and monitoring systems being put in place. These reports and initiatives where a follow up to the ‘Computing at Schools: The state of a Nation’ (CSWG, 2009) report.

The 2009 report clarified the present position and gave the bases for a clearly defined vision. In the authors opinion this report correctly identified that young people should be educated in the usage of digital technologies along with application usages and the understanding how they work and the foundational principles. This approach and vision clearly correlates with the OECD (2014) report and European Schoolnet (2013) findings.

The ‘Computing at Schools’ (CSWG, 2009) report directly addressed the primary school elements by recognising the difference between ICT and computing. This report stated that their current educational structure focused on ICT elements but failed on addressing how they worked and the associated underlying principles. Evidence from this report showed that students were disenchanted with ICT, not understanding the elements or the usage of the current systems. This disenchantment has led to the collapse in numbers applying for university computer science and engineering courses.

2.12 Motivation Social & Educational a UK Vision   

We want our children to understand and play an active role in the digital world that surrounds them, not to be passive consumers of an opaque and mysterious technology. A sound understanding of computing concepts will help them see how to get the best from the systems they use, and how to solve problems when things go wrong. Moreover, citizens able to think in computational terms would be able to understand and rationally argue about issues involving computation, such as software patents, identity theft, genetic engineering, electronic voting systems for elections, and so on. In a world suffused by computation, every school-leaver should have an understanding of computing.

    (BCS, 2012: p15)

The Computing at School Working Group was formed to develop and implement a national primary and post primary computing syllabi. They recognised that IT and Computer Science (CS) should be embedded within the national curriculum and delivered like all other subjects. This rationale was argued in the ‘Computing at school: The state of a Nation’ (CSWG, 2009) report. A collaborate approach was taken with interplay between government bodies, namely the British Computer Society (BSC), The Chartered Institute for IT and private organisations Microsoft, Google and Intellect.

BCS is a professional body for IT. In the UK, the Institute of Engineering and Technology (IET) also register ICT professionals with Engineering Council UK (ECUK). BCS state in their 2012 report ‘Computing at Schools’(BCS, 2012), that it is essential that school children from primary school onwards are taught how to create digital technology and software for themselves. The BCS identified correctly, stating technology changes ever more rapidly, the principles and concepts that they are built on do not, and it is imperative that school children need to be introduced to the scientific and engineering principles and concepts of Computer Science. The 2009 report stated that the present state of computing / ICT usage and the integration within the UK educational system was in a gloomy state but identified the following opportunities for the primary school sector:

The biggest opportunity is the curiosity and enthusiasm evident in 11 year olds, coupled with the abundant evidence that this group are able to grasp the concepts and practices of programming.  These students represent the digital generation and take for granted the role of computers in all day-to-day activities. Another opportunity identified, concerned the nature of computing, this was that students can have fun writing programs and animating ideas, linking this element of computing with the traditional syllabus with benefit to all parties.

This could be put into practise by using software and systems such as Scratch, Alice, Microsoft’s Kodu projects and greenfoot.org. Also investigating CS Unplugged which is a collection of activities designed to teach the fundamentals of computer science without requiring a computer, which is aimed at 5 – 12 year olds but is appropriate for the age rank up to 18.

The structure and focus were as follows;

  • Section 1: Importance of Computer Science at school.
  • Section 2: Key Concepts that arise repeatedly in Computer Science.
  • Section 3: Key Processes that pupils should be able to carry out.
  • Section 4: Range and Content of what pupils should know.
  • Section 5: Level descriptions of Computer Science attainment.

(CSWG, 2012: p.1).

2.13 Key Stages, for primary and secondary education

The author notes that within this section of the report the linkage placed between primary and secondary education. Key stages 1 – 3 address primary education requirements.

  • Key Stage 1 (ages 5-7).
  • Key Stage 2 (ages 7-11).
  • Key Stage 3 (ages 11-14).
  • Key Stage 4 (ages 14-16) Post-16 education (ages 16+).

2.14 UK in Summary

The UK educational policy makers firstly identified that they had a national problem with respect to computing and ICT integration at both primary and secondary levels. These problems were highlight in the ‘Computing at school: The state of a Nation’ (CSWG, 2009) report. This report not only identified the problem but thereafter made excellent recommendations and a guiding structures as to how implement these recommendations.

This report along with the 2012, ‘Shut down or restart’? Created by the Royal Society Education ‘The way forward for computing in UK schools’ (RAE, 2012) and The Computing at School Working Group report ‘Computer Science. A Curriculum for Schools’ (CSWG, 2012), defined in the authors opinion a clear vision and path that allowed for the follow up to the 2009 report. These three reports all aligned and concurred with the vision, views and finding of the OECD (2014) and the Europe Schoolnet (2013) reports.

2.15 Computing an Irish Overview & the Primary School Position

This dissertation focuses primarily on the Irish primary education sector and the usage of computing to aid learning. To understand and fully investigate this area the author must delve into the broad spectrum on the Irish educational and industry. The author feels this must be done to achieve a comprehensive understanding of how the government presently addresses computing and ICT skills integration into the primary educational sector. The author has already stated that based on these elements and facts this dissertation may have validity for further investigation.

“There are few drivers which will be more important to global job creation in the coming years than the development of ICT skills.”

(Minister Quinn citied in DES, 2013: p.3)

2.16 The Problem

The ICT Skills Action Plan 2014 – 2018 states in many places about present and future growth within the ICT sector.

  • Significant contribution to export performance, accounting for €70 billion per annum.
  • 60% of ICT professionals are employed in the broad ICT sector, while 40% are employed across other sectors of the economy.
  • By 2015, it is estimated that there will be a shortage of up to 864,000 ICT professionals across the EU and the European Economic Area (EEA).
  • Face an average increase in demand for high-level ICT skills of around 5% per year.
  • 2018 with the employment of ICT professionals anticipated to rise to just over 91,000.
  • 44,500 job openings forecast to arise over the period to 2018 from both expansion and replacement demand.

(DES, 2013)

This sector is critical to our present economic growth and imperative to our continuing national growth.

  • Increasing just of IT graduates with high level of computing skills.
  • Low signup rate of female students to computing degree course, despite initiatives to specially address it by bodies like Engineering Ireland.
  • High attrition rates from computing degree courses.
  • Lack of appropriate mathematical and problem solving skills amount school leavers.
  • Lack of knowledge of what computer science involves, hence poor up take of computing degrees.

(Ryan 2015: p.1)

As a country we must have a clear unambiguous vision from our educational leaders which can be understood and communicated to all parties. Mr. Kevin T. Ryan of the University Limerick in his recent paper to the Minister for Education and Skills Jan O Sullivan T.D. believes that this vision should be.

That every student in first and second level gain an understanding of the conceptual basis and principal skills of computer science and that a significant number, who have the interest and the aptitude, are able to study computing as a fully-fledged subject up to and including Honours Leaving Cert.

(Ryan 2015: p.1)

Minister Ruairi Quinn T.D., painted a vision in the ‘ICT Action Plan 2014 – 2018’ (DES, 2013) which had a far broader scope, stating that this action plan was a collaborative effort by government and selected departments to meet the goals of making Ireland the most attractive location in the world for ICT Skills availability.

Our national tax structure draws many multinational companies to our shores which is something we must protect but it cannot remain the reason why multinational companies chose Ireland as a destination to locate. Dell Ireland is an excellent example of a company that not only creates primary jobs with direct employment but secondary employment through required vendor service which are required for their supply chain. Many of these companies avail of this system, placing their headquarters on our shores whilst placing token employment. We as a nation most not only attract but take full advantage by these multinational companies, requesting as many technical jobs as possible.

Issues:

  • Shortage of IT graduates.
  • Computing degree course drop-out rates.
  • Accommodation & Rent for employees.
  • Tech companies presently mostly reside in Dublin, accommodation is an issue for employees as availability is presently under pressure whilst rent prices are a deterrent for employees, home grown and international to relocate to our capital.

We cannot request jobs be made available from multinational companies if we cannot fill these positions. With respect to the drop-out rate, why is this happening? Are we similar to UK where research stated, not understanding the area of computing and the basic principles led to high drop-out rates? This will be further explored within the discussion chapter.

Solution:

  • Develop and implementation of a primary and secondary computing syllabus.
  • The creation of a decentralised technology hub, structure throughout Ireland.

2.17 Department for Education and Skills

The ‘ICT Action Plan 2014 – 2018’ (DES, 2013) was developed by numerous state departments in collaboration with industry and academic partners to provide a plan to make Ireland the most attractive location in the world for ICT skills.

The collaborators were the Department of Education and Skills headed by Minister Ruairi Quinn T.D. and the Department of Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation which was then headed by Minister Richard Burton T.D. These departments collaborated with the following government agencies and state supported bodies, Higher Education Authority (HEA), Science Foundation Ireland (SFI), Enterprise Ireland, Industrial Development Authority (IDA) Ireland, Skillsnets Ireland, National Council for Curriculum and Assessment (NCCA), Professional Development Service for teachers (PDST) and Forfas. Whilst this document goes further to state the involvement of ICT Ireland, Irish Internet Association (IIA), Engineers Ireland, Midas Ireland, Irish Software Association (ISA), Games Ireland, The Irish Computer Society (ICS), and lastly the American Chamber of Commerce Ireland.

With the collaboration of so many leading departments, agencies and state bodies the author is very hopeful that the research will assist with direction and implementation plans.

In the authors opinion Minister Quinn states correctly that Ireland already has a thriving ICT enterprise base dealing with and supporting both indigenous and multinational companies. The author listed these companies in the introductory element of the dissertation. The author does not concur with Minister Quinn statement that “the quality and responsiveness of our educational system helps develop new opportunities in the area of technology”.

This statement conflicts with the findings of the OECD (2013) report which grade Ireland poorly with respect to present ICT national capabilities and whilst Ryan (2015) also conflict with this view as was stated in the problems faced by Ireland in the ‘Teaching Computing in Ireland’ report 2015.

Minister Quinn states that before the publication of the first Action Plan 2012, 45% of demand was met by domestic supply from the higher education programmes. In 2014, this figure grew to 60% and the present action plan targets to react to three quarters of demand by 2018. Stating that this will be achieve through a number of actions in the educational system. The author will now examine this report to investigate the elements which directly focus on the integration in computing and ICT into the Primary educational sector.

The DES (2013) report ‘ICT Action Plan 2014 – 2018’, address the primary education elements very briefly under Actions/Tasks point 8 to Promote career opportunities to primary and second level students. The report within this element does not describe any KPIs with respect to the primary position for computing and ICT integration. The report next addresses the primary schools element in point 17 to revise primary mathematics syllabus appointment the reasonability to the NCCA. This dissertation is researching the elements related to primary education but must note that the DES 2013 also deals very vaguely with computing integration into the secondary education sector. The author must note that nowhere in this report do the policy makers or authors refer or make linkage to any of the views or recommendations of any OECD or Schoolnet reports.

2.18 Comparison against the UK

National Council for Curriculum and Assessment

The author will now examine the NCCA with respect to present computing usage to aid learning in primary schools, whilst also exploring their future computing integration plans. The author’s research revealed that last report from the NCCA with direct linkage to computing in schools was published in 2004 ‘Computers and Curriculum – Difficulties and Dichotomies’

The purpose of this was brought about due to the fact that the NCCA was considering the place of ICT in primary and post-primary curricula (O ’Doherty et al, 2004). For the purpose of this study the author will examine the more recent ‘The Primary Classroom: Insights from the growing up in Ireland study’ (2012) funded by NCCA and developed by the Economic and Social Research Institution (ESRI) to research the area of the primary classroom resulting in the following report. This report is very broad but will give the author an excellent insight as to what is happening in Irish primary schools. For the purpose of this dissertation the author will focus on the elements of computing and ICT integration and how this report describe these elements to aid learning.

This report addressed three set questions:

  • How teachers allocate time between the different subject areas of the primary curriculum?
  • What are the most frequent teaching methods used in primary classrooms?
  • What are children’s attitudes to school, their teachers and individual subjects?

(Banks et al, 2012)

The author will try align these elements looking for linkage and gaps with respect to the direct question. Is computing a subject of primary learning in its own right and if so how?

2.19 Allocated time to different subject areas

Table 1: Weekly minimum time framework suggested in the Primary Curriculum (1999)

(Banks et al, 2012)

The above table shows weekly minimum time as suggested by the national curriculum, Banks et al (2012) highlights the feedback from teachers, stating that the feeling with respect to the syllabus content is one of overcrowding. Whilst the below table describes the average weekly time allocated to subjects, as can be viewed from figure 2.3 computing nor ICTs are listed.

Figure 3 – The average weekly time allocated to subjects

(Banks et al, 2012)

2.20 Teaching Methods

The international study, ‘World Apart Report’ (Reynolds and Farrell, 1996) highlight that one of the main factors that differs more successful countries in international grading rankings (like Singapore) was an embraced widespread use of whole-class interactive teaching. Singapore are present world leaders with respect to the embedding of computing and ICTs to aid both primary and secondary level students. Using the modern elements to firstly ensure the children are fluent in computing whilst also enhancing the teaching experience with the aid of these elements. The author notes that this ‘The Primary Classroom: Insights from the growing up in Ireland study’ (2012) does not reflect well with respect to the above stated.

2.21 Use of Multimedia/ICT

Banks et al (2012) explored the usage of multimedia and frequency of with which students accessed computers and the internet. The results varied greatly showing the use of computer facilities is much less prevalent in the fee-paying sector: < 10 per cent of children in fee-paying schools reported daily use of a computer against to one-quarter of children in non-fee-paying schools. ICT usage also appears higher in rural which have support from the Delivering Equality of Opportunity In Schools programme (DEIS) and urban band 1 DEIS schools, along with schools in the Gaeltacht, while 70 per cent of children in urban band 1 DEIS schools use computers in the classroom at least once a week, this is the case for just over half of their peers in non-DEIS schools (Figure 4).

Figure 4: Frequency which children use a computer in the classroom by school DEIS status

McCoy et al (2012) describe to the potentially beneficial role played by ICT access, find that Internet access in the schools plays important roles. Enhancing social networking activities, while children who have access to a computer in the classroom are more likely to engage in cultural activities outside of the classroom. This further demonstrates that participation in these cultural and social networking activities outside school are linked with enhanced reading and mathematics performance.

The greatest challenges reported by teachers was the lack of time and availability of appropriate assessment tools. Also reporting difficulties catering for the range of student abilities, most notably, in the area of mathematics. Variation was evident in the integration of ICT into day-to-day learning and teaching being less integrated work was evident than had been anticipated in the original curriculum documents (Banks et al, 2012).

2.22 Summary

This chapter has examined a wide range of literature related to primary education programmes and the usage of computing to aid and enhance learning within this sector. The author’s goal is to seek appropriate theoretical frameworks that allowed him to review and benchmark where our Irish primary syllabus in comparison too other nations. With special emphasis and focus being place upon our neighbour and closest rival, the UK.

This chapter has clearly shown that presently there are many different approaches been taken in different countries and many different resources available to aid within this area. The author started from a broad prospective, reviewing the OECD and European Schoolnet, thereafter narrowing the review to focus on the UK and concluding with a review of what is happening in Ireland.

The OECD clearly states that primary education has become more closely linked to the real world by taking advantages of new technologies and learning opportunities. Highlighting that investment in the computing and ICT skills of teachers to aiding learning is imperative. The ‘Teaching and Learning survey’ (OECD, 2013) concluded that teacher’s rank ICT skills development as their second most development need.

European Schoolnet ‘ICT in Education’ (ES, 2013) concurred with the OECD findings. Stating that the key to successful integration and to fully ensure students benefit, is to ensure teachers are confident in their knowledge of the area and syllabus, whilst being comfortable with the delivery methods.

The UK went from a Computing at Schools: ‘The state of a Nation’ (CSWG, 2009) report which highlighted their short comings. This was followed by a Royal Society sponsored report ‘Shutdown or Restart’ (RAE, 2012) along with the Computer Science: ‘A curriculum for schools’ (CSWG, 2012) report. The decision to introduce computing as a subject at all levels was acted upon, with direction, syllabus, implementation and monitoring systems being put in place for both primary and post primary in 2014.

With respect to an Irish position the author reviewed many reports from many Irish educational bodies, gauging and making comparison to how the Irish approach was versus that of other nations. The main report was the ‘ICT Skills Action Plan 2014 – 2018’ (DES, 2013), this report was very similar to its predecessor the ‘ICT Action Plan 2012’ (DES, 2012) with no real significant changes. This report focused mainly in ICT Skills and did not cover computing/coding in any great detail. Also there was no mention of significant future plans for developed or implementation within the area.

  1. Methodology

“If we knew what we were doing, it would not be called research, would it?”

(Albert Einstein Biography, 2011: p1)

3.1 Introduction

Within this chapter the author will outline and justify the planned structure for the methodology used in this dissertation. Firstly, this chapter details the research objectives of the stated question, thereafter discussing the secondary sources of information with respect to their relevance. Developing the type of problems to be investigated and the methods used for the collection of both primary and secondary data.  Taylor and Bogdan (1998) state the methodology of the proposal should explain how the author will address the problem and answer the attendant questions.

Every primary school principal in Co. Wexford had a questionnaire emailed and posted directly. This element of the dissertation will explain and justified the structure, usage and questions. Primary data was also collected through the use of semi-structured interviews. The contents of which was developed to expand and further develop on the core focus of the questionnaire. These interviews were conducted with three principals and varied in length from twenty to thirty five minutes.

This chapter will further explain the measures used and the questions asked to gather the appropriate data. A copy of the questionnaire used for this dissertation is included as Appendix B.

3.2 Research design

The author with a philosophy of interpretivism used an inductive approach to data collection. Developing theories from careful data analysis. Taylor and Bogdan (1998) states that interpretivism holds that, the important reality is what people perceive it to be.

The author used also descriptive and predictive research methodologies. The aim of predictive research is to have an intelligent speculation on future possibilities, whilst the use of interviews and questionnaires is within the descriptive method. Thus, the dissertation will follow a combined quantitative and qualitative research strategy.  Bryman (2004) explains a quantitative piece of research emphasises quantification in the collection and analysis of data, and states that qualitative research follows an inductive and discovery approach looking at social realities taking into account the constantly changing property of individuals’ perceptions. Deshpande (1983) explains the qualitative aspects of research allows the author to get an insider’s perspective of the area under study.

The benefits of qualitative research is clearly stated by Wright and Crimp (2000) defining that qualitative research can aid the uncovering of diagnostic research and problem solving, where there is a specific problem, in known territory, that needs investigation in order that solutions can be found.

3.3 Participants and Schools Selection

The author conducted one-to-one interviews with selected principals. Within the research a survey was defined and created, this was carried out via a questionnaire, thereafter conducting appropriate circulation and collection methods. The planned questionnaire circulation method was conducted via direct email and direct mailing to each principal, whilst the collection and analysis of this data was conducted via content analysis. This method was used to analyse the data aiding with the summarising of the finding for discussion. Sharp & Howard (1996) explain that content analysis is extensively used in putting,

Qualitative data into a more quantitative framework to identify the target communications, identify a number of dimensions of the subject in hand and count the number of times each dimension is addressed in each communication.

(pp.114-115)

3.4 Research Objectives       

The objectives of the research were outlined in Chapter One.

  • Ascertain, identify and highlight the present structure of the Irish primary schools with respect to computing usage to aid learning.
  • Identify and highlight the educational sectors understanding of their core competencies.
  • Bench mark the Irish primary schools syllabi against the UK with respect to computing to aid learning.
  • Consider if computing should be an embedded part of our primary educational syllabus?

The choice of primary and secondary sources of information plus the selection of measurement instruments was directly aligned with the stated objectives. A mixed qualitative / quantitative approach was chosen to obtain the best possible data which will be combined to draw conclusions from the research objectives.

3.5 Primary sources of information

The author within his role as lead mentor for Wexford Coderdojo and lead mentor for Kids Coder Club, has had initial informal discussions with a number of primary school principals. From these brief initial discussions, the author has noted these principals had limited mixed knowledge of computing/coding or ICT Skill structures for primary schools. The survey methods the author has chosen for the primary data collection element of this dissertation are:

  1. Questionnaire
  2. Interviews – One on One

Whilst the author would like to have conducted a national survey, it was only feasible due to time and resources to select a proportion namely Co. Wexford, which has 106 primary schools.

There are 509,652 children enrolled in 3,305 primary schools in Ireland taught by 32,489 teachers (statistics relate to 2010-11). Many of the schools are small with over 50% of them having four or fewer teachers.

(DES, 2011: p.7)

3.6 Questionnaire

The author began gathering primary data by emailing and directly posting the questionnaire to the principals of each of the 106 listed schools within Co. Wexford (Appendix A). The author had concerns about the return ratio due to the nature of the subject matter. From previous informal conversations with principals, most clearly stated this was not an area they were comfortable or knowledge with. Also stating that this was not a major concern due to the overloaded present syllabus.

Due to the nature of the subject topic, the author had concerns with respect to the return ratio. To try increase the return ratio, one hour free consultancy was offer to each principal who completed and returned the questionnaire. The author clearly stating in the introduction letter that all replies would remain anonymous.  The questionnaires were formatted and designed to ensure ease of completion, ensuring the questions whilst being specific were not overly technical. Of the 106 questionnaires, 30 were returned giving a return rate of 28%. This return rate allowed enough information to be extracted and thereafter highlighting certain trends which will be reviewed in the next chapter.

3.7 Interviews:

Interviews can be conducted in many formats i.e. unstructured interviews, semi-structures, and structured, ranging from free flowing conversations to highly formal. The author chose for the purpose of this element of the dissertation a semi-structured approach. This enabled the collection of unbiased, good quality data whilst also allowing the participants led at parts by the use of opened ended questions. The author believes this method will complement the questionnaire to ensure a fully round prospective is encapsulated.

Upon completion of the collection and analysis of the questionnaires a selected number of principals were contacted directly and 1 to 1 interviews were requested. The interviews were conducted with three selected principals. These interviews were inductive based as the author started from a blank slate but used the questionnaire to aid with the interview guidelines and to ensure consistency of the data.

Each question was formulated around the research questions and objectives for both the interviews and questionnaires. The author has preference to face to face over phone interview methods and therefore chose the former method. The planning, frequency, number of visits and logistic constraints were all assessed and finalised upon completion of the sector overview.

3.8 Interview Questions and Format:

The author compiled a list of interview questions aligning with the themes of the questionnaire to act as a guide (Appendix B). The interview format was interviewer to interviewee, face to face to ensure no misunderstanding or misinterpretation could happen. The interviews were held in the principal’s office and the atmosphere was relaxed. The interviews were between twenty and thirty five minutes long and designed to lead the principal along gradually.

The interviews began with questions based around the questionnaire and thereafter moved to a broader focus. This was to allow the principals the opportunity to include information that they felt was relevant to the research, based on their experience and had not been previously covered by the author.

3.9 Secondary Data Collection:  

The author has safeguarded that the facts can be verified and were well-researched, with respect to the quality of the information sources. This was ensured by selecting sources from recognised bodies. This deductive method of sourcing information from external sources such as state bodies, verified directories, the Internet, professional bodies and sector analysis will give a full rounded view. The research started with a broad view starting with the OECD, then exploring what is happening in Europe paying special attention to the UK and finally exploring what is presently happening within Ireland.

3.10 Sample Size:

The author ensured the sample was large enough to help answer the research question precisely, but not to large that the process of sampling becomes uneconomical and inefficient. Due to the constraints time and cost a sampling procedure was adapted. The author has previously noted a complete coverage of all primary schools in Ireland was preferable but not practical.

The criteria / rationale / why certain schools were selected, taking into account the available resources were all taken into account. Due to the limited number of participants it was decide to include all primary schools with Co. Wexford. This non bias approach will also add weight to the findings.

3.11 Ethics:

Before commencement all participants were made aware of the author’s ethical stand with respect to this said study, this was communicated via an attached letter to both the emails and direct mailings. The author feels this is of upmost importance to firstly ensure the truth in responses and secondly, the build transparent channels of cooperation.  The author ensured all participation was voluntary. The author believes fully in informed consent, all participants were fully informed about all procedures. Participants will not be at risk of harm with respect to their participation as confidentially and anonymity will be practised throughout the research.    Lastly, all participants were made aware as to how all results and data will be used.

3.12 Limitations:

The limitations of the study are those characteristics of design or methodology that impacted or influenced the application or interpretation of the results of your study. They are the constraints on generalizability and utility of findings that are the result of the ways in which you chose to design the study and/or the method used to establish internal and external validity

(University of Southern California, 2014: p7)

The author’s main aim was to ensure the primary data gathering and sampling frameworks ensure that activities are carried out correctly. The limitations of this study will have greatest impact on:

  1. The quality of the findings.
  2. The ability to effectively answer the research questions.

The limitations of time may hinder the understanding with respect to relevant literature published from within the said study area thus putting restrictions on the discovery of new knowledge. As this study is based on research from within the Irish Primary School sector, the author also feels there are certain limitations with respect to time and scope of data collection. These factors will have restrictions on sample size for both the qualitative and quantitative elements of the study therefore may need further research.

3.13 Expected Outcomes:

The author has an excellent understanding of the targeted sector and the many stated variables. This allowed the author to be able to conclude the best strategic approach to gain competitive advantage, whilst ensure the sectors core competencies are understood.

3.14 Summary:

This chapter opened by restating the research objectives outlined in chapter one. Thereafter the author discuss the sector review and explained the selection for the participants and schools.  The research design element explains the approach taken by the author to ensure all information both primary and secondary were firstly topical and appropriate, secondly collected and analysed correctly. This was followed by a discussion on the primary and secondary information gathering. The merits and demerits of qualitative/quantitative methods were outlined.  The justification of using semi-structured interviews was given. Content analysis was identified as the main tool employed data analysis. Lastly, the author discuss the main elements with respect to sample size, ethics, limitation and expected outcome.

  1. Research Results

4.1 Introduction

In this chapter the author will present the results of the questionnaire and thereafter the interviews with the principals. The questionnaires were firstly circulated and secondly the semi-structured interviews were conducted.  The goal of this chapter is to present the findings, not yet offer discussion or analysis as to what these findings yet mean. Within this chapter the author will present the findings in a cohesive and logical manner. Chapter four research results will link directly with chapter five the ‘Discussion’ and chapter six ‘Conclusions and Recommendations’. The author by the use of narrative and figures will aid the reader visualise the data.

4.2 Research Methodology

The research methodology used in the collection and analyse of data for this dissertation was both qualitative and quantitative. The quantitative element of this dissertation that being the questionnaire/survey enabled the exploration by identifying and relating stated variables to one another, whilst also aiding with the formulation of the hypotheses. Due to the limitations noted in Chapter three a sampling procedure was adapted. A complete coverage of all primary schools in Ireland was preferable but not feasible due to time and cost constraints.

Jankowicz (2000) explains that sampling is a deliberate choice and provides data from which conclusions can be drawn about some larger group whom these people represent.

4.3 Primary Questionnaire

The author shall now examine the trends that emerged from the post primary questionnaire sent to schools principals. One hundred and six questionnaires were sent out, one to each of the primary schools in Co. Wexford. The number of questionnaires returned was thirty, giving a return rate of 28%.

The author had hoped for a higher return rate and had expressed concerns within chapter three with respect to the return ratio. To also try increase the return rate the author ensured the questionnaire was easy to follow and non-technical with twelve questions in total. Concerns relating to the subject topic and the fact that some schools may not be conducting any activities within this area and therefore would not want to highlight this fact where also articulated in the previous chapter.

4.4 Questionnaire Introduction

The questionnaire was broken down into section A & B. The questionnaire can be viewed as appendix B.

4.5 Section A

The variables being analysis within section A do not have any major bearing with the dissertation but are merely being used to demonstrate there is no bias i.e. The author is not looking for correlation between the variables in Section A with respect to the research objectives.

Requested details and particulars with respect to the school and principal was as follows:

  1. Name:       _____________________________
  2. Gender:       Male ______            Female ______
  3. School Name: _____________________________
  4. School Location: _____________________________
  5. Number of pupils: _____________________________

The analysis of section A uncovered the following. With respect to gender, of the one hundred and six targeted principals, forty one were male (39%) and sixty five female (61%). The survey showed that the respondents were 20% within the male category and 80% in the female category, thus a higher response rate came from the female sector. Figure one shows school locations, 13% of the respondents were located in towns versus an 87% respondent rate from country schools.

Figure 5: School Geographic’s.

The analysis of the number of pupils per schools for respondents showed the following as can be viewed in figure six. The lowest figure was forty one, the highest figure was two hundred and forty nine and the average of the respondents was one hundred and forty one pupils per school.

Figure 6: Number of Pupils.

4.6 Section B

Focused on devices, funding, training, syllabus and resources. The author will now process the findings from section B.

4.6.1 Computing/ICT lessons, what devices does your schools use?

100% of the respondents stated that they deliver some form of computing / ICT lessons. 30% of the schools replied to the questionnaire stated that they used dual devices for the delivery of computing/ICT lessons. All of the respondents highlighted laptops and iPads as there method of delivery.

Figure 7: Dual versus Single Device Schools within Schools.

70% of respondents used a single device for delivery of computing / ICT lessons, this was broken down and illustrated that 86% preferred laptops, whilst 14% used iPads as there chosen tool. The questionnaire did not request the specific number of devices per schools but it was noted by some respondents that device resources were as low as three in their individual school.

Figure 8: Single Device Usage with Schools.

4.6.2 Funding for computing/ICT training

Figure nine clear shows that 80% of the respondents stated that they received ‘No’ funding for computing / ICT training, whilst 20% of the respondents stated that ‘Yes’ they did receive funding but their sole source of support comes from their individual parent councils. It was noted by 10% of the respondents that in the past the NCTE did provide some training and support but this has now ceased.

Figure 9: Do schools receive any funding for computing / ICT training?

4.6.3 Funding for hardware or software support or renewals

Of the 28% of principals which responded to the survey 80% stated that they received ‘No’ funding for the renewals of hardware and software. One fifth of the 80% of the ‘No’ replies stated that the last DES grants received were in 2008, which presently leaves a seven year support gap.

20% of respondents stated ‘Yes’ they did receive support within the area but like question seven, their sole source of support came from their individual parent councils. 10% of the ‘Yes’ replies further stating that an annual direct charge of €10 per annum was directed to the individual parents for iPad usage.  Some respondents noted that they felt adequate resouces were not fortcoming from DES.

Figure 10: Do schools receive any funding for hardware or software support or renewals?

4.6.4 Aid or direction with respect to computing/ICT delivery syllabus

Figure eleven clearly shows a 60%/40% split, with 60% of respondents stated ‘No’ that they received no support with respect to aid and direction for delivery of computing and ICT syllabus and made no comments thereafter. The remaining 40% Stated ‘Yes’ they did receive aid and direction. 50% of the total ‘Yes’ replies, expanding that circulars where received from DES and that training courses where undertaken by teachers to aid with professional development. Whilst the other 50% of the ‘Yes’ replies never mentioned DES but explained that aid and support within this areas was purely on a volunteer bases, led by teachers and parents.

Figure 11: Do schools receive support or direction with respect to computing / ICT syllabus?

4.6.5 Designated computer room

90% of respondent replies stated ‘No’ that their schools did not have a designated computer room. The remaining 10%, stated ‘Yes’ and thereafter expanded on their responses stating that the computer rooms where not used anymore as there is an emphases on working with laptops and this is conducted within the individual classrooms. Whilst these respondents also explained that the hardware was mostly old, disused second-hand PC’s and would not be usable or of benefit to the students nor teachers.

Figure 12: Do schools have a designated computer room.

4.6.6 Designated computing/ICT co-ordinator?

The author wished to discover if primary schools had designated computing / ICT co-ordinators. 30% of respondents replied ‘No’ to this question, stating they had no designated computing / ICT co-ordinator within their schools. One respondent expanded stating that they had a post of responsibility for IT in the school, but when that teacher was reassigned to another school, the post was never replaced.

70% replied ‘Yes’ they had designated computing / ICT co-originators. 50% of the ‘Yes’ replies stated that this role was filled by the deputy principal. Whilst the other 50% stated that the role was covered by a member of staff who had volunteered for the position. It was also noted by a number of respondents that the time needed to manage IT and this role was too great and further expanded to state that this position should be fulltime.

Figure 13: Do schools have a designated computing / ICT co-ordinator?

4.6.7 Designated computing/ICT curriculum

One of the thirty respondents which equated to 3% stated ‘Yes/No’ to question twelve, further stating that computing skills within their schools were developed in a cross curriculum manner, explaining that skills were taught by integrating while teaching other subjects but thereafter noted that presently there is a curriculum overload. All the other respondents simply replied ‘No’ that their schools do not have a designated computing / ICT curriculum.

Figure 14: Do schools have a designated computing / ICT curriculum?

4.7 Summary questionnaire of findings

This survey showed that among those that responded (28%), all respondents contributed in some form to the delivery of computing / ICT skills, this dissertation did not request the level, subject matter or techniques of delivery. Are the 72% which did not respond participating in any computing / ICT skills within their individual schools? The author used the initial questionnaire findings to aid with the development of interview questions, allowing him to further probe, whilst giving the freedom to principals to express their opinions about the area of computing / ICT skills usage to aid learning.

Figure 15: Section B – Research Results Summary

From these initial findings it is very clear that principal’s gender did not make a difference to those schools that do deliver computing and ICT Skills within a classroom environment. Section B explores the areas of device usage, training, syllabus and resources. 30% of respondent schools used dual devices, namely laptops and iPads, whilst the remaining 70% used laptops as their single device for delivery. The number of devices per schools was not quantified but the author noted that some respondents stated they had only three devices for the entire school. 100% of the survey participants replied that they received no funding, from any government body with respect to computing / ICT Skills training, whilst 20% noted that funding was raised through their individual parent councils.

With respect to syllabus support and delivery only 40% stated they received aid within this area. This was further broken down as 20% of respondents stated they received government direction and aid whilst the other 20% noted all support for this area arose from voluntary sources (teachers and individual parents). Designated computer rooms seem to be a thing of the past, as only 10% stated they had computer rooms but highlighted that these were now redundant due to outdated hardware. 70% of principals stated that their schools had designated computing / ICT Skills co-ordinators, half of these positions were filled by teachers on a voluntary basis whilst the other half were filled in a non-voluntary basis by deputy principals. The final question of the survey asked the participants if their schools had a designated computing / ICT Skills curriculum. An overwhelming 97% responded no to this question. This suggests that there is great variance in the responses to some questions from the survey whilst most questions showed negativity towards funding, support, direction or aid from DES or any other government body with respect to the area of computing and ICT Skills. In the interviews the author will explore the differences in some areas, whilst exploring the reality of delivery and implementation.

4.8 Interviews

The interviews were designed to aid the author to explore areas that needed further investigation which arose from the questionnaire analysis. The interviews led the participating principals through their schools usage and their personal understanding of computing / ICT Skills. Ultimately asking, do they feel it has a place in the national syllabus? The author would have liked to have delved deeper with the interviews but was unable due to the constraints of this dissertation therefore he will reiterate his earlier view that this area has validity for further exploration. A number of common trends were identified in all the interviews, these major themes were reviewed and will be explored further along with other related issues in the discussion chapter.

4.8.1 What is your prospective with respect to the present structure for computing usage to aid learning?

The general consensus amongst the interviewees is presently that they are dealing with syllabus overload and therefore do not have the time, space, experience or expertise to truly facilitate computing usage to aid learning. Teachers have autonomy with respect to usage and delivery but in no way is this a requirement. All participants highlighted that presently there is no aid, direction, training or support from DES or any other government body within this area. Lastly, noting that presently their focus is to ensure the present requirements are fulfilled, viewing the area of computing to aid learning as a luxury, progressed and implemented by individuals with the knowledge on a voluntary basis.

4.8.2 What do you believe are the present core competencies within the Irish primary sector?

Again within this area there was an excellent consensus from all three participants. The interviewees highlighted pooled resources and knowledge, led and guided by DES as a major sector core competency. This concurs with the view of Schilling, M. A. (2013: p117) he states that core competencies can be defined as “a harmonized combination of multiple resources and skills that distinguish a firm in the marketplace”. The interviewees all explained that interaction with students within a created learning environment is very present. Lesson plan design and varied teaching strategies are well implemented, along with excellent communication, collaboration and commitment to their profession. Concluding that they all felt these present core competencies are an excellent platform to address changes and modernisation to the present curriculum.

4.8.3 Do you believe computing / ICT Skills should be embedded as part of the national primary syllabus?

All participants concurred that firstly their understanding of computing as a standalone entity or computing / ICT Skills as a method to progress and to aid learning was very limited. The general agreement is that it does seem progressive and a trend that will continue but all participants stated that without direction, support and aid from the government it will remain as a hobby / extra curriculum activity used and implemented by teachers with an interest in the area.  When the participants were asked about their understanding of how the UK used computing and ICT Skills to aid learning, two thirds stated that they had read articles in the national papers about this topic but had no real understanding of what is happening in the UK. All participants stated that they felt positively towards have computing / ICT Skills embedded within the national primary syllabus but they all concurred that for this to happen a total syllabus review and restructuring would be required.

4.9 Summary

A general consensus was present with respect to all the questions and discussions within the interviews. This did surprise the author as the interviewees came from very different and diverse school environments. Two thirds of the participants were female versus one third male, two thirds were from town schools versus one third from country schools. One school was all-male whilst the other two were mixed and one school was a Gaelscoil.

  1. Discussion

“The more one analyses people, the more all reasons for analysis disappear. Sooner or later one comes to that dreadful universal thing called human nature.”

Wilde & Murray (1989: p220)

5.1 Introduction

Within this chapter the author will explain and interpret results from the previous chapter (chapter four) in view of already existing knowledge and newly acquired knowledge on the topic. The chapter will enlighten readers on the findings and explain how the problem could now be newly interpreted, in view of the findings and investigation. This chapter will link the introductory elements, research question, aims and objectives (chapter one) with the literature review (chapter two), methodology (chapter three) and findings (Chapter four).

The focus of this study was to investigate the question, that being ‘To examine the usage of computing to aid learning in Irish primary schools’ and thereafter further investigate the dissertation’s aims and objectives, those being;

  1. Ascertain, identify and highlight the present structure of the Irish primary schools with respect to computing usage to aid learning.
  2. Identify and highlight the educational sectors understanding of their core competencies.
  3. Bench mark the Irish primary schools syllabi against the UK with respect to computing to aid learning.
  4. Consider if computing should be an embedded part of our primary educational syllabus?

The author within his primary research not only wanted to discover what is happening with respect to the stated question within our primary schools, through the use of questionnaires (to ensure coverage of an appropriate target audience) but also discuss first hand through interviews, the feelings and opinions of primary school principals. In this chapter, the overall results of this study will be discussed, in order to draw out the main findings laid out in chapter four, in line with the stated objectives.

The Irish Government has clearly stated within the ‘ICT Skills Action Plan 2014 -2108’ (DES, 2013) the importance to have an educational system that ensures Ireland has a technology competent workforce. This will not only ensure continual growth within this increasing sector but also to continue to retain and attract foreign multi-national companies. In the author’s opinion, this is correct and essential for our national economy, but this report does not clearly identify and discuss development plans to ensure Irish primary and post primary students have the required skills to consider computer science or even remain on a par with their European neighbours within this area. This report falls short on many fronts, discussing no long-term plans for the implementation of computing into schools, where our closest neighbours and industry rivals namely the UK have not only implemented these elements but embedded them in both primary and post primary since early 2014.

5.2 The analysis

The research results clearly contradict the assumptions which the government feel are adequate to ensure that Irish primary school goers gain a basic understanding of computing at primary schools level. These plans laid out in the ‘ICT Skills Action Plan 2014 -2108’ (DES, 2013) and the ‘e-Learning roadmap’ (PDST, 2013) may discuss the use of ICT Skills and technology in classrooms, along with technology integration into the syllabus, but the results from ground level demonstrate a very different reality.

Figure 15: Section B – Research Results Summary

Figure fifteen, clearly shows that funding with respect to training and hardware/software support and maintenance is not being made available and definitely not being seen at ground level. The results also clearly highlight that individual schools do not feel they are receiving direction with respect to computing and ICT skills curriculum support. The one area which returned an initial positive response was the area of having a designated computing / ICT Skills coordinator. When this area was further investigated it showed that 50% of these positions were voluntary whilst the other 50% were the default responsibility of the deputy principals. In conclusion, schools, principals and teachers presently get no real support with respect to ICT Skills direction, training, and curriculum or syllabus direction. Each school has total autonomy as to;

A: if it delivers any materials to their students in this area,

B: if the school does, it has total autonomy as to how and what may be delivered.

The author within his work role is fully aware of The Irish Software Research Centre (LERO) and also their excellent primary and post primary Scratch syllabus, not once in all the primary research did any principal mention this body or material nor through direct contact with teachers has the author ever been aware that teachers know about this material.

The greatest concern which arose from the literature review (chapter two) and the research results (chapter four) was the fact that neither the government, associated bodies nor individual school principals seem to really understand computing as a discipline. All understanding and focus is pigeon holed within the area of ICT Skills which differ greatly from computing and coding usage to aid learning and develop essential modern skill sets. Within chapter one of this dissertation the author clearly outlines what computing is about with respect to education and the broader meaning.

5.3 Computing usage to aid learning

One of the author’s objectives was the ascertain, identify and highlight present structures and usage of the Irish primary schools with respect to computing usage to aid learning. As previously stated nowhere within any documents or policies has the author seen.

A: a clear understand of what computing is about as a discipline.

B: has he come upon any clearly defined implementation plans with respect to computing integration into the national syllabus.

C: seen any discussion or plans to address these short comings within this area of computing and integration into education.

These short comings in the author’s opinion will continue to have a detrimental effect on the progression of our students into the twenty first century.

With respect to students, from the authors direct experience of working with primary and post primary students with the area of computing and coding. The forming of 1: an interest and 2: an understanding, is imperative for students at primary school level and if correctly delivered will ensure that students can develop within the field of computing whilst progressing through the natural schools syllabus, that being from primary education to post primary and thereafter to third level, highlights some very relevant facts and points. This article states firstly the importance of the digital economy to Ireland, being worth 7.7 billion or 4.8% of gross domestic product (GDP) which will continue to grow and therefore should be a focal point for the government. The author concurs on the importance of having a grounded understand embedded within students before entering third level computer science courses.  O’Briain (2014: p1) states that Irish students “who achieves the requisite number of CAO points will secure a place on a computing course, despite being practically illiterate from a computing perspective”. Also noting that in other disciplines student will have had exposure of 6 to 11 years at primary and/or post primary levels.

Lastly, O’Briain in the author’s opinion, describes an excellent analogy with respect to the follow on from the omission of computing as a discipline within our present school curriculum. That being, a student is exempt from learning Irish at both primary and post primary levels. But upon the completion of their leaving certificate achieves the required Central Applications Office (CAO) points to undergo a Bachelor of Arts (Gaeilge). These circumstances would make life very difficult for both the student and lecturer. One could also include, that because of these short comings students do not consider a future in CS and if a student does choose CS as a third level college choice, those short comings may attribute to an increase of course drop outs.

5.4 Understanding core competencies

The second objective of this dissertation was to identify and highlight the educational sectors understanding of their core competencies. This was of interest to the author to explore the mindset and attitudes of principals at ground level as to where they presently are and also with a view to their mindset towards computing and ICT Skills integration. Core competencies if fully understood will attribute to competitive advantage. Porter (1985) explains that competitive advantage is what ensures organisations grow and increase productivity. Whilst Barney states competitiveness of an organisation is its capacity to achieve its targets. ‘But, what targets have our government set for the educational sector and how do they rank these results against other national syllabus?’ (2011: p45). Also expanding that competitive organisations can be measured by both objective and subjective criteria.

The author firmly believes that the Irish government must view our educational sector as a production process, whilst never dehumanising learning but viewing the outputs (our students) as what will increase our GDP by indigenous growth and continuously attracting multinational companies to this small island. The interviews with the principals were refreshing and very encouraging as all interviewees agreed on their understanding of the sectors core competencies. The major areas highlighted were pooled resources and knowledge, creative learning environments and also collaboration and commitment amongst principals and teachers alike. These coherent views are very encouraging, showing that the sector is focused and would not find a syllabus adjustment too daunting.

5.5 Computing within the primary schools sector – ROI Versus UK

The UK educational sector which includes both primary school and post primary went from exploration reports in 2009 these being the ‘ICT for the UK’s Future. – The Next Move’ (RAE, 2009) and the Computing at School Working Group (CSWG) report ‘Computing at Schools: The state of a Nation’ (CSWG, 2009) which assessed their short comings (benchmarking against other nations, whilst also examining best practises) in the area of computing in education to a full role out and the embedding of computing into the national syllabus in 2014. The CSWG was tasked with developing and implementing a national primary and post primary computing syllabi. They recognised that IT and CS should be embedded within the national curriculum and delivered like all other subjects.

These initial reports, in the author’s opinion correctly identified that young people should be educated in the usage of digital technologies along with application usage and the understanding of how they work and the founding principles.  Thereafter directly addressed the primary school elements by recognising the difference between ICT and computing. Also recognising that their current educational structure focused on ICT elements but failed on addressing how they worked and the associated underlying principles. Evidence thereafter showed that students were disenchanted with ICT, not understanding the elements or the usage of the current systems. This disenchantment has led to the collapse in numbers applying for third level computer science and engineering courses. The author truly believes that this element of disenchantment is present within the Irish educational sector and also concurs with O’Briain’s (2014) views in his article ‘Protecting the future of ICT – is Ireland being left behind?’

This dissertation highlighted the early efforts and contributions by the government to address the said area. The 1997 offering ‘Schools IT 2000’ report produced by DES, clearly stated that the government objectives were to

1: have a designated ICT coordination unit in the DES to act on behalf of the department on all matters relating to

ICT. 2: the NCTE to devise policy proposals and advice the department on policy issues.

3: have education centres to provide regional support for the teachers with respect to ICT Skills development and implementation. From the analysis of the findings from within this dissertation the aforementioned seems to have vanished.

In conclusion Ireland is where the UK was in 2009, still focusing on ICT Skills rather than integrating this area with computing. ICT focuses on computer literacy training i.e. the teaching of word-processing, spreadsheets and presentation applications whereas a computing curriculum is designed to demonstrate to all children the full breadth of computer science at appropriate stages.

5.6 Should computing be embedded?

In the author’s opinion it is imperative that computing and ICT Skills should be embedded within the primary and post primary curriculum. This is to ensure we not only maintain parity with other nations however we should strive for leadership in ICT/computing educational standards. It has been previously discussed in a number of areas of this dissertation the importance for Ireland as a progressive nation to produce students with an excellent understanding in computing and ICT Skills, whilst aiding individuals who choose to enter the area of computer science as a third level choice and have a grounded understanding of the topics.

5.7 Summary

Within this chapter the author dissected the analysis of his findings and thereafter examined each of the stated objectives. The findings clearly contradict the assumptions which the government feel are adequate to ensure that Irish primary schools goers gain a basic understanding of computing at primary schools level. A very clear picture has been painted, showing that Irish primary schools get no support or funding with respect to computing / ICT Skills development and implementation. Also that if any school does try within this area, there is some guidance but this is not communicated coherently as not one primary research participant could identify available resources. Each school has autonomy with respect to what is delivered and how it is delivered.

This study has shown that we as a nation have significant defects with respect to computing usage to aid learning. Our system is presently struggling to deliver ICT Skills to the primary educational sector and thus far does not grasp computing as a separate discipline. One of the few positive aspects to derive from this study is the sectors understanding and the cohesive view with respect to their core competencies, this is an excellent foundation for syllabus modernisation to start with. With respect to computing and benchmarking the Irish primary sector against the UK’s, there is no comparison. In short, Ireland has none whilst the UK has an excellent syllabus embedded in their curriculum. Lastly, should computing as a disciple be embedded in the Irish curriculum? This is really not a choice as it is imperative to our national development that this is done sooner rather than later.

  1. Conclusion and Recommendations

“Truth, naked, unblushing truth, the first virtue of all serious history, must be the sole recommendation of this personal narrative”

(Gibbon, 1984: p34)

6.1 Introduction

This dissertation has brought the author on a very educational and enjoyable journey, exploring the practises, views and attitudes of Europe (ES) and World bodies (OECD), whilst also examining what other countries are doing with respect to ICT Skills and computing at primary school level.

The aim of this study was to investigate and examine the usage of computing skills to aid general learning in Irish primary schools. Investigating present structures to ascertain how competitive advantage with respect to educational core competencies can be further developed. Benchmarking the Irish primary education structure against our closest neighbour and industry rival the UK educational sector to investigate,

  1. Is there differences in the approach/structure? And if so,
  2. What are these differences?

The four research objectives for this dissertation as outlined in chapter one, as follows:

6.2 Aims & Objectives          

  1. Ascertain, identify and highlight the present structure of the Irish primary schools with respect to computing usage to aid learning.
  2. Identify and highlight the educational sectors understanding of their core competencies.
  3. Bench mark the Irish primary schools syllabi against the UK with respect to computing to aid learning.
  4. Consider if computing should be an embedded part of our primary educational syllabus?

6.3 Present Structure

Within this dissertation the author has examined the present structure of the Irish primary school sector with respect to ICT Skills and the usage of computing to aid learning in Irish primary schools. Firstly, what happened in the past was examined? The early 1980’s saw the introduction of ICT courses for teachers which coincided with the introduction of more user friendly computers. ICT Skills were delivered outside of the core curriculum with each school having autonomy with respect to delivery and frequency, both of which were directly linked to the availability of hardware, software and knowledge based resources.  In 1997, the government launched the ‘Schools IT 2000’ (DES, 1997) and the ‘Blueprint for the Future 2001’ developed by the (NCTE, 2001) which were the initial proposal to address the full integration of ICT skills into primary schools, committing 40 million IR£ (€50,789,523). Within this period locally centralised ICT coordinators were appointed to aid with syllabi structure/delivery, software and hardware implementation and issues, unfortunately these positive aspects all were withdrawn overtime.

Presently, there is no support or funding for the primary education sector with respect to syllabi structure and delivery, software and hardware implementation, renewals or maintenance, this was uncovered during the primary data exploration and through secondary data research. Of course, there are reports and polices such as ‘ICT Skills Action Plan 2014 – 2018’ (DES, 2013) and ‘e-Learning Roadmap’ (PDST, 2013) which in the authors opinion talk the talk but do not cover delivery and implementation or define a clear central strategy to ensure ICT Skills and computing are included and embedded into the Irish primary schools sector. Most worryingly for the author is the lack of plans for the future, again the above policies have no centralised focus or budgets to deal with this sectors short comings.

In Conclusion

The Irish educational bodies must address their present short comings with respect to the integration of ICT Skills and computing into national syllabi. To ensure parity with other countries and thereafter become leaders within this sector.

6.4 Understanding core competencies

One very positive aspect of the findings from the dissertation was the coherent, aligned attitude of the surveyed and interviewed principals which demonstrated their understanding of the educational sector’s core competencies. The general consensus from all the interviewees was the positive aspects of the pooled resources and knowledge, led and guided by DES. Further expanding that interaction with students within a created learning environment is very present in our national primary school system. Lesson plan design and varied teaching strategies are well implemented, along with excellent communication, collaboration and commitment to their profession. Concluding that they all felt these present core competencies are an excellent platform to address changes and modernisation to the present curriculum.

In Conclusion

Primary school principals understand that ICT Skills / computing is an area which needs to be addressed. The general consensus is very positive with respect to core competencies but the majority feel that guidance, funding and support does not exist today.

6.5 Bench marking against UK setup

Within four years of a 2009 study the UK implemented a full rollout in 2014 of computing from age 5 to age 18 within their school curriculum. This change was initiated by a Royal Society sponsored report ‘Shutdown or Restart’ (RAE, 2012) along with the ‘Computer Science: A curriculum for schools’ (CSWG, 2012) report. The decision to introduce computing as a subject at all levels was not just acted on, with direction, syllabus, implementation and monitoring systems being put in place. These reports and initiatives where a follow up to the ‘Computing at Schools: The state of a Nation’ (CSWG, 2009) report.

These reports cover all aspects of ICT Skills and computing within schools, initially examining their current position and thereafter clearly stating and explaining, where the sector needed to go and how to get there. The author found honesty and area knowledge very present within the findings and approaches of the above reports. One of the major breakthroughs for the UK was recognising the difference between ICT and computing. These reports stated and addressed the fact that their current educational structure focused on ICT elements but failed to address how they worked and the associated underlying principles.  The below diagram clearly lays out the suggested terminological reform.

Figure 16: Suggested terminological reform

(RAE, 2012)

The UK followed a planned blended learning approach by using software and systems such as Scratch, Alice, Microsoft’s Kodu projects and greenfoot.org, combined with CS Unplugged lesson plans aimed at 5 – 12 year olds but is appropriate for the age right up to 18.

The sections clearly layout their revamped structure was focused as follows;

  • Section 1: Importance of Computer Science at school. (ages 5 – 7)
  • Section 2: Key Concepts that arise repeatedly in Computer Science. (ages 7 – 11)
  • Section 3: Key Processes that pupils should be able to carry out. (ages 11 – 14)
  • Section 4: Range and Content of what pupils should know. (ages 14 – 16)
  • Section 5: Level descriptions of Computer Science attainment. (ages 16+)

(CSWG, 2012: p.1)

As stated previously by the author, in his opinion Ireland has fallen well behind in comparison to the UK’s present ICT Skills / computing structure. Within the Irish primary sector there is no support, guidance, direction or funding available for ICT Skills / computing today. Reports, plans and policies while providing some direction do not directly provide equipment, finance, syllabi or integration within the overall primary and secondary academic frameworks and therefore give no momentum whatsoever to this stated area.

In Conclusion

Within the remit of this dissertation I have researched articles and papers from Irish professional and academic sources, such as O’Briain, D. (2014) offering ‘Protecting the future of ICT – is Ireland being left behind?’ and Ryan, K. (2015) offering ‘Teaching Computing in Irish Schools. Where we are and what we need to do’, which clearly articulate the problems, short comings and even offer possible solutions, but does government take advantage of these works? From the policies and reports I have examined, unfortunately not. Ireland is actually further behind with respect to embedding ICT Skills / computing into their school syllabus than the UK was in 2009.

6.6 Embedding Computing

Lastly, the author asked if computing should be an embedded part of our primary educational syllabi. From the research and findings which this dissertation uncovered the author would state that 100% yes, ICT Skills and computing should be embedded within our national school curriculum.  As was clearly stated within many different areas of this dissertation the world as we know it, for good or bad will continue to be technology driven. The technology sector for all developed nations now is a major contributor to national GDP output and will continue to grow year on year.

In Conclusion

In the author’s opinion it is imperative that computing becomes an embedded part of the Irish primary school national curriculum. As is demonstrated in other territories, children embrace ICT Skills /computing when this is delivered in the correct manner and using appropriate methods of delivery, this then should follow on to more complex CS syllabi within the post primary sector, which will deliver more prepared young people to technology courses at third level and support a knowledge island into the future.

6.7 Recommendations

6.7.1 Centralised Body

Presently there are too many government sub-bodies which separately develop and contribute to elements of ICT Skills for both the primary and post sectors. This leads to confusion for principals and teachers at ground level and not understanding what is there to aid them and which body they should seek guidance from. A single centralised government body should be created to deal with all aspects of ICT Skill / computing development and delivery.

6.7.2 Understand Computing Versus ICT Skills

Presently as poor as the support and material is within the Irish schools sector the author did not see any evidence or material to demonstrate that this sector understands the difference between ICT Skills and computing and how they can be aligned and integrated. The term ICT should be reviewed and separated into clearly defined areas such as IT, CS and digital literacy. This area should be the responsibility of a newly formed centralised body.

6.7.3 Syllabus Revision

The national primary and post primary syllabi should be revised to exclude dated topics/subjects and ensure there is adequate space for newly developed ICT Skills / computing syllabi. These systems and syllabi could be based upon the UK’s curriculum and implementation structure.

6.7.4 Teacher Training

The government must look at the training of both primary and post primary teachers to ensure they have adequate levels of competencies within the areas of IT, CS and digital literacy. In line with a newly developed national computing syllabus, an online virtual teacher should be developed to aid teachers within their classroom environments. The government should also recruitment qualified CS professionals to work with schools to ensure delivery and implementation is being carried out correctly.

6.7.5 Budgets and Resources

Adequate budget and resources should be set aside by the government to ensure suitable technical resources are available in all schools to support the teaching of newly developed computer syllabus. These could include pupil-friendly programming environments such as Scratch, Kodable, Beebots, Hopscotch, Tynker, Daisy the Dinosaur, Alice, Kodu, Python and Ruby, all of which work on laptops, iPads and generic tabs. These could be used in conjunction with appropriately developed CS Unplugged lesson plans.

6.8 Limitation of Research

This dissertation was an exploratory study of the government’s plans and primary school principal’s attitudes towards ICT Skills / computing usage to aid learning. It was confined to a sample of one hundred and six principals for the survey and three principals for the interviews. The research was confined to Co. Wexford due to time and budgetary restraints.

6.9 Further Research Objectives

This dissertation has achieved its four outlined objectives, which were detailed in chapter one. However by the organic nature of the research during the course of the dissertation, a number of further research opportunities were identified.

  1. Would the findings be the same for each county?
  2. What is happening with respect to ICT Skill / computing to aid learning within the post primary school sector?
  3. Are third level educational institutes limited as a result of the failings at primary and post primary levels with regards to ICT Skills and computing?

6.10 Chapter Summary

This chapter opened with a discussion on the author’s conclusions based on the primary and secondary research results and followed by the author’s recommendations. The chapter was concluded with some additional research objectives, which were identified during the course of the author’s research.

  1. VITA

Trevor Murphy was born in Wexford, Ireland on the 15th of August 1972. He worked with multinational companies from 1990 – 2000 where he first learned about TQM and mass global production, along with many other elements of business. Within this company Trevor’s role was in the Quality Assurance Department as a Customer and Quality Assurance Analyst, from this platform Trevor launched his academic career.

After leaving the multinational company, upon completion of his Diploma in Computing in Computer applications with a distinction, he was recruited by a national Information Technology company where his main role was Project and Process Analysis Manager. Within this period he completed his Teacher and Training Certificate in Training and Continuing Education from the National University of Maynooth.

Trevor returned to work in Wexford in 2002, becoming the General Manager of a local fabrication and engineering company. Trevor undertook an ACCA Diploma in Finance Management during this period refining his knowledge of Risk Management, Interpretation of Financial Statements, Financial Strategy and Performance Management.

In 2005 Trevor retuned to the multinational business area working at national level for a global engineering company. This two year tender as Accounts Manager allowed him to enhance his finance and business skills, whilst getting his first introduction into directly working with local authorities. By early 2007, Trevor had setup his own import, sales and Distribution Company which he headed as Managing Director until 2011, during this period he also entered the retail sector.

In 2011, Trevor completed his HDip in Business and Supply Chain Management and also moved into consultancy and training, forming Alignment.ie and KidsCoderClub.ie. Whilst Trevor completed his MSc in Information Technology Management in 2014.