OVER 200 first year students at Malahide Community School moved to the forefront of innovative educational technology yesterday as they received their very own 'Digital schoolbags' as part of the Wriggle 1:1 learning programme.The initiative, which will be rolled out to 21 schools nationwide this year, sees students exchange conventional schoolbooks for Apple iPads, which will contain ebooks, in an attempt to prepare school children for the modern workplace. Although not mandatory, the new programme has proven extremely popular amongst the parents of first year students in Malahide, with at least 210 of the 218-strong year group set to buy the iPads and e-books in place of their physical counterparts. Welcoming the move, school principal Patricia McDonagh was keen to stress the advantages that the programme can offer. 'An obvious advantage for children who choose to take part in the scheme is a lighter schoolbag,' said Ms. McDonagh, ' however the school also wants to develop a future learning ethos based around the increasingly technological demands of the world that we live in. 'A recent ESRI study has shown that boys in particular tend to disengage in mainstream education when they get to second year, whereas an interactive system such as this ensures that such students remain engaged for hopefully the rest of their school lives, and also prepares them for a 21st century learning environment," continued the principal. Typetec, the Irish IT company behind the new Wriggle brand, has over 20 years of experience working with first, second and third level educational institutions in Ireland, and they also maintain that such projects are essential for the development of new skills amongst Irish students, and consequently the future workforce. Despite having to pay for an iPad along with the individual e-books that are required for the programme, parents have jumped at the chance to experiment with the interactive technology, which also allows students to download educational apps and videos. Parents of students have also been given the option to arrange a three-year payment plan with banks and credit unions to spread out the cost of the iPads. If successful, Ms. McDonagh intends to expand the programme within the school. 'If the venture proves a success, and we are hopeful that it will, then the plan is to extend the programme to incoming first and fifth years in 2013.' Asked if she feared that such a move would constitute a removal from conventional methods of teaching and learning, the principal was emphatic in her response. 'Despite the change, the school classroom will still maintain the same chemistry and will continue to offer a progressive learning environment,' said Ms. McDonagh.