Our 'average' Irish teens lag behind in hi-tech learning
IRISH teenagers need to use more technology in the classroom and engage in new ways of learning if they are to improve their performances in the prestigious international student assessment known as PISA.
That is the twin conclusion after publication of the latest findings from a global study on creative problem-solving skills using computers, where Irish 15-year-olds ranked as "average".
Ireland was 17th out of 28 countries in the developed world, and 22nd out of a broader comparison of 44 countries in the OECD's Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) survey carried out every three years.
In an analysis of the results, Ireland's Educational Research Centre (ERC) pointed to the lack of computer use in Irish schools, compared with the OECD average, as a likely reason for the disappointing showing.
According to the ERC, students in Ireland reported using information and communications technology (ICT) in general, in maths lessons and at home for school-related tasks, less often than the average across the OECD, representing the developed world.
"Students in Ireland may have been disadvantaged relative to students in other countries due to less familiarity with using computers at home and at school, for school-related tasks," they stated.
The ERC noted that where Transition Year students were involved, the scores were higher, probably because of their greater engagement with computers or greater opportunity to develop problem-solving skills.
Lack of, or poor broadband connectivity is the problem for many second-level schools, a situation that is even worse for primary schools.
All second-level schools have been promised high-speed broadband in September, but there is no such commitment at primary level.
Where connectivity is not an issue, many schools and parent communities cannot afford to keep up with technological advances and provide pupils with the modern e-learning devices.
Union leaders used the finding to criticise the lack of technology in the classroom.
Association of Secondary Teachers Ireland (ASTI) general secretary Pat King said that students would not develop the problem-solving ICT skills needed in the globalised economy until there was enough ICT and related supports in schools.
Gerard Craughwell of the Teachers Union of Ireland (TUI) said he hoped the promised Digital Strategy for Schools would be finalised and implemented as a matter of urgency and be underpinned by the appropriate resourcing.
Education Minister Ruairi Quinn said the findings made a case for reform of Junior Cycle, which, he said, was crucial in addressing the performance of 15 year olds in problem-solving. Education and Training Boards Ireland (ETBI) education research officer Pat O'Mahony said the report highlighted the urgency of reforming teaching and learning in schools.
The report, 'Creative Problem Solving – Students' Skill in Tackling Real-life Problems' is based on a 2012 study that included a 40-minute computer-based test to measure general problem-solving skills.
What makes the findings doubly worrying is that when the next round of PISA is conducted in 2015, there will be a switch to computer assessment for all tests.