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Over the last 18 months, teachers and students across the country have embraced technology at unprecedented speed. Despite some initial challenges, this experience has given us a glimpse into the potential of the ‘digital classroom’ and how technology can enhance teaching and learning for years to come.

Prior to the pandemic, the importance of ICT (information and communications technologies) in education had been growing on the radar of government and industry with the last Digital Strategy for Schools a step in the right direction for driving technology use in the classroom.

However, the events of the last 18 months have accelerated the transformation of the sector beyond expectations. Approximately 1.1m students across primary, secondary and third level moved to remote learning practically overnight, bringing with it the need to ensure adequate access to digital devices for students at home.

Over the course of just eight weeks, Dell Technologies partnered with Ireland’s national education and research network, HEAnet, to provide 16,700 devices which enabled thousands of students at second and third level to study remotely.

Despite the steep learning curve, teachers and students have embraced the benefits of technology. A recent ESRI report on second level found that many teachers have “a new-found appreciation for the potential of ICT in the classroom”.

As students begin to return to schools and colleges around the country, many are wondering whether the recent adoption of technology inside and outside the classroom can result in the transformation of Ireland’s education system to meet the future challenges it faces.

I firmly believe we have a unique opportunity to use our collective experience as a catalyst for long-term transformation. To move away from viewing technology as only a crisis management tool to a means by which we can reshape our education system for the needs of a data-driven economy and society.

The Programme for Government aligns with that vision with firm commitments to developing and embedding a Digital Education Strategy, where technology empowers our educators and improves education outcomes for all. From primary to third-level education, technology has shown us all how the digital classroom can enhance the resilience of the system at large while also providing new tools to roll out innovative approaches to learning.

The shift to the cloud has proved effective in giving students easy access to resources and teachers to provide real-time feedback, so why stop now? Adopting the cloud would allow for the roll-out of a more flexible and convenient learning experience, with students able to watch back lessons and learn on the go.

With yearly enrolment at third-level set to increase from 50,000 to at least 65,000 by the end of this decade alone, Ireland will face the challenge of rapidly adding additional capacity. Making blended learning a permanent feature of many courses would provide universities with a flexible way to scale up to meet the needs of an ever-larger student base.

There is also a growing need to accommodate the increasingly varied needs of students at all levels of Ireland’s education system. Learning is very much an individual journey. Artificial intelligence (AI) can facilitate the development of individual learning plans allowing teachers to track the progress of each and every student so they can reach their full potential.

Shifting to the development of a digital classroom can also bring complex educational topics to life. Virtual reality, for example, is enabling students at Munster Technological University (MTU) to be more creative, through therapeutic activity–based video games to assist patients with Parkinson’s disease.

The economy and society we left behind in 2020 is not the one which will power up an inclusive and sustainable recovery. Our data-driven future will be determined by innovative talent that have the digital skills needed to understand and develop AI, edge computing and the cloud. That’s why we need to look at how we can modernise the curriculum, so today’s students have the skills for tomorrow’s economy. Critical thinking, collaboration and analytical skills will need to be married with new digital skills if we are to rebuild and recovery.

Our education and research sector will be the engine of that recovery, fostering the creative thinking to succeed. Ireland’s Applied AI centre, CeADAR, has been at the forefront of efforts to use cutting-edge advancements in big data and AI to help Irish start-ups and scale-ups to grow. In helping CeADAR to develop a new supercomputer named ‘Leon’, our education and research community can help power up an innovation-led recovery.

This, in turn, will support Ireland’s future objectives, as set out in the Economic Recovery Plan, to be world leaders in the appropriate application of frontier digital technologies.

Of course, in order for transformation to happen successfully, the right foundations have to be in place. From broadband connectivity to access to digital devices and training, government and industry must ensure that no one is left behind.

This need will only become more pronounced over the coming months as primary, second and third level institutions continue to rely on technology to navigate the changes in public health restrictions that we are now seeing.

Government initiatives, such as the new €420m Digital Strategy for Schools and Next Steps for Teaching and Learning project will take lessons from the last few months of remote learning into account. This will provide an important roadmap as to how to build on the gains of the past year and address any inequalities or barriers to change that arise.

The education sector in Ireland has never been better poised to take advantage of the benefits of digital transformation. Working together to harness future possibilities will help to create a more resilient, inclusive and creative education landscape that empowers our students, researchers and teachers for the ‘digital-first’ world of today and tomorrow.

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Autor(en)/Author(s): Jason Ward

Quelle/Source: Independent, 05.09.2021

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