Making time for technology in the timetable
As technology continues to revolutionise the workplace, schools now have an opportunity to teach appropriate digital skills throughout students’ careers
The teaching of information and communications technology (ICT) can be a fraught issue for schools and parents alike. Everyone agrees that it is essential, particularly in light of how important ICT is in the workplace, but how can schools fit it into an already busy timetable? In addition, where is the demarcation between computer science and general digital skills?
Linda Keane, general manager at ICDL Ireland, said that the full gamut of digital and computing skills can be taught – and that schools can offer it at times when it is appropriate for students as learners, building the foundation they need.
Company details ICDL Ireland
Year founded: 1997
Number of staff: 30
Why it is in the news: As schools gear up to introduce ICT to other subject areas, ICDL wants foundational digital skills to be offered.
“It’s not that you receive digital skills at a particular time and then are done,” she said.
ICDL’s series of modules focuses on the fact that, first and foremost, young people need to be safe engaging online, teaching them to examine the veracity and provenance of the data and to be respectful in their engagements with others, while recognising harmful content and the potential harmful effects of excessive screen time.
As a result, ‘Information and Collaboration Essentials’, part of the Digital Student Essentials programme from ICDL, covers the main concepts and skills needed to efficiently search for information online, communicate safely, manage your digital footprint, and use collaborative tools.
“Digital Student Essentials is a modular programme specifically designed for first-year students in secondary school to give them a timely foundation in digital skills and set them up for further progression,” said Keane.
Continued learning is important not only in the context of how fast-moving technology is, but also because as ICT enters the curriculum students need a solid foundation.
“Technology is evolving, that is one aspect. Another is the embedding of technology into education as reflected in the Digital Strategy for Schools to 2027,” she said.
Under the strategy, technology will not be taught on the basis of technology for its own sake, instead requiring a strong pedagogical element for digital being embedded in any particular subject area.
‘You wouldn’t send a construction studies student off to work on a lathe without training’
This is the correct approach to introducing technology into subjects, Keane said, but doing it demands that students have already developed the digital skills to use technology as tools.
“You wouldn’t send a construction studies student off to work on a lathe without training,” she said.
Indeed, concepts such as ‘digital natives’, by which young people who have grown up with technology are preternaturally adept users, have tended to obscure the fact that students’ understanding of technology can be partial.
“Using the phone as a consumer device is a totally different thing to being productive, working creatively, engaging in collaboration and doing it appropriately and safely,” said Keane.
Today, some schools are more focused on incorporating digital skills into the curriculum than others, but often it is squashed into the transition year timetable simply due to time constraints. With ICDL’s modules there is instead an opportunity to offer it in, for example, first and second year, take a break for exams in third year, and then pick it up again in transition year.
“As they progress through the years, they become more competent users of tech and progress to the productive and creative use of tech, allowing them to solve problems, create new knowledge and artefacts, prepare them for work experience in transition year, and then out into the outside world of work and college,” said Keane.
As the courses are modular they can be adapted according to schools’ needs, but this also has the advantage of reinforcing students’ skills development, she said.
“Learning is incremental, but giving a good foundation is extremely important. Setting that up in first year and incrementally adding on modules as they go along is a way to achieve this.”
ICDL’s courses can also be used to support students who may wish to take a deeper dive into technology, choosing to do computer science at Leaving Certificate level, as well as offering modules such as e-commerce and digital marketing that complement other school subjects and projects.
Even for students whose future use of technology will be primarily productivity and collaboration rather than ‘bare metal’ computer science or data science, however, the fact that they will need to use software and digital services in college and in their careers means that teaching of the fundamentals cannot come soon enough, Keane said.
“At the end you have set them up to be productive in the adult world, where they will be expected to use technology. It’s about teaching the appropriate use of technology at the appropriate time,” she said.