Key to a smart society is online education for all
Sean Rowland of Hibernia College says the revolution in communication technology should be harnessed to expand access and raise quality across the education sector
'We need more education -- but at affordable levels. Technology enhanced learning can directly deliver high quality education...'
'The empires of the future will be empires of the mind'
Growing up in Turlough in the rural west of Ireland in the Sixties was certainly pre-the Celtic Tiger era. Yet in the Fifties and Sixties we laid the foundations for the development of our once booming economy.
It was evident to me at the time that those armed with knowledge had significant influence and became the leaders in my community.
Who were these people? They were the formally educated among us. They were the banker, the dentist, the doctor, the chemist, the garda, the teacher, the priest or the lawyer.
My community was driven by those that were transforming their knowledge into success. They were our role models; they were who we wanted our children to be. As a result, we became driven towards higher levels of better education so that as a nation we could become more successful. We transformed from an agricultural society into a more urban and industrial country.
Free secondary education in the Sixties was revolutionary. We built and reinforced the university and third-level system. So why is it that our PISA rankings, the worldwide rankings based on the performance of 15-year-old students, are not only declining but the standards of our top performers are deteriorating? Our attainment and completion numbers are waning, according to the most recent Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development report.
Once hailed as the darling of Europe, we now watch our young citizens leaving the country in their droves while Irish households are struggling to regain employment to support their families to progress through our education system. Where does this leave a knowledge economy?
It goes without saying that economic growth and jobs are Ireland's only way out of austerity. We need to grow world- class businesses through foreign direct investment while supporting and strengthening existing and new Irish business. Our single enduring strength is our young people and we need to capitalise on this by educating them for today's needs on a local and global scale.
I agree with Minister Quinn when he said we need to "up our game". We cannot continue to tackle today's problems with yesterday's solutions. Our tax rates are favourable for business, we are members of the EU, we are English-speaking and we are geographically well-placed for international business and trade. All of these advantages give us huge global competitiveness. We already host many of the world's leading companies.
However, while unemployment soars, we are still dependent on importing certain skills to sustain these companies. We need to be more competitive. But first we need to ask ourselves: what is competitive in today's world? We have had the industrial revolution and now we are experiencing the knowledge revolution.
A successful knowledge economy today means capitalising on brain power. The US and Finland are prime examples of this. Knowledge is our vital natural resource and it can drive our economic development. Cornell president emeritus Frank Rhodes put it well: "Nations that work smarter, not harder, will be the ones to lead the world in the new century."
Why shouldn't Ireland be one of these nations? Low performance levels in maths, science and foreign languages are a continued thorn in our education system's side. With unrelenting low results, how will we prepare teachers and students for modern, 21st century thinking and development so that they in turn can meet the challenges and opportunities in the ever-expanding IT and knowledge-based sectors?
We need to widen educational opportunities for our citizens. We must expand access and raise the level of academic attainment across the population; increased numbers of our citizens need to achieve a higher level of education on a continual basis.
The most significant lost opportunity in Irish education in recent decades has been a failure to exploit communication technology to lead an educational revolution through online education delivery. It is a glaring omission in our current system. This is because the education system that we are exploiting now was constructed and developed for a different age.
The revolution in communication technology has to be adopted as a major instrument in expanding access and raising quality across the education sector so that we are armed to take our place in the economies of the 21st century. If this doesn't happen we will prevent ourselves from accessing the best jobs -- not only in Ireland, but across the globe.
The key to building a smart society, essential for an economy with sustainable growth, is expanding education at all levels. Technology alone has the capacity to address these deficiencies in education effectively and at a low cost.
The bottom line is clear, we need more education at affordable levels. Technology enhanced learning can deliver high quality education on to student's desktops and into their homes at affordable rates. Hibernia College is already pioneering these forms of elearning across Ireland and the UK. We have delivered on our mission to bring quality education into the homes of students in every county in Ireland at no cost to the Exchequer.
At Hibernia College, we are academically and professionally accredited, offering customised educational programmes designed to address the growing demand for flexible, cost-effective, lifelong learning, which is not restricted by location or time. Our blended learning format combines interactive, multimedia-rich online content with face-to-face tuition through periodic onsite sessions. Through strategic collaborations and partnerships with global leaders in technology development and curriculum design, Hibernia College has placed itself at the forefront of innovative online education for those wishing to pursue formal qualifications while continuing to work in a way that is not possible using conventional modes of delivery. It is designed to allow students to fit their study around their existing personal and work commitments without having to relocate or take a break from their careers.
In Ireland, we are accredited by the Higher Education and Training Awards Council and after just 12 years we are the largest provider of teachers in the country. We deliver postgraduate teacher education for both primary and secondary level and we support lifelong learning through continuous professional development.
We have alumni teaching students in 11 countries worldwide. The college is accredited by the UK Government's Teacher Development Authority and delivers a national teacher education programme for teachers of maths, physics and chemistry across England. Our Master of Science in Pharmaceutical Medicine has been recognised as the world's first IMI Pharmatrain Centre of Excellence. Hibernia College now has students registered in 34 countries.
Churchill said: "The empires of the future will be empires of the mind." We have a responsibility and an opportunity to facilitate quality learning at affordable prices to students at undergraduate, postgraduate and continuing professional development levels through the use of technology. It is no longer acceptable that quality education can only be accessed from university campuses. We need to ensure it is happening at community and household level. Hibernia College is making that happen today.
President Sean M Rowland;
Sunday Indo Business