Tuesday 20 March 2018

Lack of a connection in pupils' homes affects ability to study after school

Pupils Erika Lee and Aishling McCarthy working on the computer in Banogue National School, Croom, Co Limerick. Photo: Brian Gavin
Pupils Erika Lee and Aishling McCarthy working on the computer in Banogue National School, Croom, Co Limerick. Photo: Brian Gavin
Katherine Donnelly

Katherine Donnelly

Only about half of the country's primary schools have decent broadband - but even where they do, this may only address half the problem.

While a school may enjoy good connectivity itself, many pupils in rural areas do not have coverage at home.

That means that teachers cannot fully exploit the use of technology in teaching and learning by giving pupils homework that involves going online.

Primary principal Sheila Cagney's battle for better broadband for Banogue National School, Co Limerick, paid off in the past year, but she said: "A pupil living half a mile down the road might not have a good connection."

And it is affecting how the school wants its pupils to engage with education.

The Banogue school champions technology, with teachers using cutting-edge digital education programmes for maths, reading and, more recently, cybersafety.

Like other schools, Banogue NS also has access to the online version of Encyclopaedia Britannica, a valuable resource that was made available through the Department of Education.

Ms Cagney said that pupils loved engaging with the various online resources, such as the Mathletics, a maths e-learning platform, and Accelerated Reader, that tests reading comprehension.

But teachers cannot suggest homework for them or ask pupils to carry out research on Encyclopaedia Britannica, because of the digital divide between school and some households.

"A lot of children don't have good enough broadband at home or it is intermittent," she said.

The issue came up at a recent parent-teacher meeting in the school and she now believes that about one in four of her pupils experience such difficulties.

Recently, Banogue NS was one a number of schools that signed up for a new cybersafety education programme called Cybersmarties, as a way of teaching children about good online habits before they join social media sites.

Cybersmarties offers a safe platform for children to explore, with their teachers, the use of social media and to learn about appropriate online behaviour. The network is fully moderated and if a negative message is reported teachers receive an immediate alert.

Cybersmarties CEO Diarmuid Hudner said that from the autumn it would be offering a monitoring service outside school hours. This is to help children build up their skills and behaviour in a more authentic way, at time when most social media activity takes place.

Ms Cagney said they had been using Cybersmarties with pupils from third class up since April, with positive effects but that without internet connectivity children would not be in a position to continue the learning experience at home.

Irish Independent

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