24 Sep

Tom Jackson: Microsoft

We asked one of the speakers at the IEF Digital Media in Education conference –  Tom Jackson –  about his role at Microsoft as education and programme manager for Northern Ireland:

What do you (and Microsoft!) do for schools?

Our programme is called “Partners in Learning”.  We support teachers through a process of continuous change. I truly believe that just because you’ve learnt something, doesn’t mean you’ve done learning. As adults we becomerisk-averse but I want teachers to realise that they can’t avoid technology or ignore it –accept you’ll never learn it all but realise that you can begin to learn, keep learning,  and make use of technology to learn and to teach. (more…)

17 Sep

CBI : INTEGRATED EDUCATION MUST BE SIGNIFICANT PART OF SCHOOLS REFORM

Says  Kirsty McManus, Assistant Director, CBI Northern Ireland

The future of our education system is of as much concern to CBI Northern Ireland members as it is too many of the other stakeholders in society. If we want to see prosperity and growth in the medium to long-term term, then it is vital that we have a workforce that is suitably prepared for the economic challenges and growth opportunities that lie before us.

For business, both indigenous and potential foreign direct investors, the skills base is something that underpins the potential success of any economy. We have long held the view that this skills base must not solely be made up of those with academic qualifications but rather must promote a mixture of people with qualifications across the spectrum. (more…)

11 Sep

INTEGRATED EDUCATION IS ESSENTIAL FOR PROSPERITY

says entrepreneur, Tony Carson.

When Mayor Bloomberg addressed a US – Northern Ireland investment conference four years ago, he struck a chord with many entrepreneurs.  To me as a businessman, his statement still rings true: The fact is, the best and the brightest don’t want to live in a city defined by division…. The historic cultural barriers between the two communities are slowly coming down, and the sooner they do – and the sooner the physical barriers come down too – the sooner the floodgates of private investment will open.” with the difference that Northern Ireland PLC is currently operating in a much tougher economic climate.  It’s even tougher when you still carry the burden of an historical reputation for division and unrest.  Pictures of Martin McGuiness with Queen Elizabeth II, of the new Titanic centre, or of the First and Deputy First Ministers together at the Giants Causeway are all useful marketing tools, but not enough to persuade investors to do business in Northern Ireland. (more…)

3 Sep

When Will Politicians Catch up with the Electorate?

Asks Paul Caskey, Campaign Director, IEF

At the beginning of the summer the Education Minister, John O’Dowd, stated “Shared education has an important role to play and now is an opportune time to debate this across civic society” and he was also quoted as saying “I suspect our society is at the stage where we are really only at the start of this debate”.

Whilst the long-awaited establishment of a Ministerial Advisory Group on Shared Education must be welcomed as step in the right direction, it is astounding to think it has taken so long to establish and that politicians like Mr O’Dowd feel society is only ready now for such a debate. What might be closer to the truth is that it,s the politicians that are only ready now.

As so often happens here the politicians are really only playing catch-up. Every independent survey and opinion poll, year after year, for as long as I can remember, has always demonstrated a clear public will to move towards a more integrated schooling system irrespective of one’s political outlook or community background. But hey we all know that such surveys can be treated with suspicion if we don’t like what they suggest; their accuracy can be questioned.  Given that fact, I encourage our political leaders to look at the other evidence, the evidence of direct parental and community action in trying to increase integration in our schools. They could start with the 62 integrated schools themselves, which were brought into being through parental demand, not government policy, and often in the face of enormous obstacles and challenges. In many cases it took philanthropic funding to get a new school off the starting blocks. Further, they could consider the hundreds of schools, whether Catholic, State Controlled, Irish Medium or Integrated, that have sought to engage in cross-community education projects but which also largely had to depend on money from local charities, international foundations or even the European Union to do so. Why on earth would parents and schools seek to do this if they didn’t recognise the value and benefit that is derived from learning, playing and working together?

Taking the above evidence, which surely reinforces the findings of the independent research, our politicians can be under no illusion about the desire to develop a system where educating children together is the norm, not the exception in our schools. The time has come for our Executive to show real leadership by enabling and directing change in our education system on a cross-community and cross-sectoral basis. This is within their grasp, not the grasp of the community.

Yet at Stormont we so often see the evidence of a policy of a ‘shared out future’ rather than a ‘shared future’.  For example, at the start of the summer our Department of Culture and Leisure didn’t announce a public consultation on languages but rather two separate consultations, one on the Irish Language and one on Ulster Scots – no doubt at twice the expense.  This “one for me, one for you” culture has led to massive public expenditure on duplicated services for both sides of our community. Without a radical cultural change at Stormont as to how we do things in this society, we will go on managing division rather than transcending it.

The window of opportunity for change in education is rapidly closing. As the Education Minister announces the creation of his Advisory Group on Shared Education, his plans are already well underway for a radical shake up of the schools estate leading to many closures, mergers and amalgamations – yet all to be done BEFORE the publication of the Advisory Group’s findings. Before we know it community separation in education will be copper fastened like never before. We must do all we can to demand our Executive finally takes heed of public opinion and stops trying to fool us that we are not ready for real change just yet. We are. Are they?

31 Aug

Digital Media in Education Conference – Patrick McGrath

Describing himself as a ‘Technologist’, Patrick   is Founder and Managing Partner of iTeach, a local not for profit organisation whose sole focus is on making technology effective in education  – for teachers, pupils and schools. iTeach is supported by a team of technology savvy teachers to ensure that everything it does enhances teaching and learning both inside and outside the classroom.

Patrick is an experienced Technology Entrepreneur and has delivered projects locally and internationally for, amongst others, NASA, Homeland Security and the NHS during his career. An Apple Education Mentor, Patrick’s sole focus is now on assisting change in education through technology with iTeach.

These are his thoughts on the upcoming Digital Media in Education conference:

How good are schools in NI at keeping up with technology?

I think we are behind other areas of the UK for example. We’ve had c2k in the classroom for some time, and it provides good standardised access but until recently it has not been flexible or dynamic enough to let teachers innovate. As C2K changes, new opportunities are open to schools – but teachers are busy and IT presents a steep and continuing learning curve. That said, our schools in general, as I see them, have a progressive attitude and a growing proportion are using IT incredibly well in the classroom in new and exciting ways.

But it’s all moving incredibly fast – what many see as the technology of tomorrow, is actually the technology of yesterday. If you’re making long-term plans involving current IT then you will always be playing catch-up.

Why is the IEF Digital Media in Education Conference important?

I think a conference such as this with a fantastic line-up of speakers, offers teachers exposure to what is possible and presents inspiration as well as an assurance that using new technology needn’t be hard. It’s a single point of access to all the information a typical school will need to progress.

What about the role of social media ?

I think social media is a critical tool for schools; they have traditionally been slow to  embrace it, but that is down to a lack of understanding. It has a great potential for engagement, for keeping parents and pupils up to date QUICKLY with what is happening at school. Parents can become involved in the academic but also the community life of the school. We need to look on the current website of a school as a brochure and nothing more; giving basic general information but not having any LIFE; the life of the school is demonstrated in the social and digital outlets. Teachers have to first understand it, then commit to using it – when you get to grips with it it’s a lot less onerous than a website. The conference will demonstrate this!

We often hear that one of the challenges for teachers in using digital technology in the classroom is that the pupils are several steps ahead of them. Teachers may be moving out of their comfort zone whereas for students it’s how they operate and communicate in everyday life….

Yes, but this can be turned to a school’s advantage. I suggest appointing pupils as digital champions. I also see a lot of peer-to-peer work going on in classrooms…a new educational culture is developing, which is exciting.  I want teachers to go away from the conference with a knowledge of what digital media can achieve – they have to realise that it’s more than  a Facebook post about what you had for tea!

Patrick McGrath will facilitate the Digital Media in Education Conference hosted by the IEF at the W5 (Odyssey) Belfast on Wednesday 10th October. Find out more about iTeach and the services they provide by clicking here.

 

 

 

23 Aug

Consultation – an opportunity not to be missed.

Chris Jenkins, IEF Community Engagement Officer, wonders how inclusive the latest debate on education will be.

Decisions are often taken over the heads of those that they affect – that is the unfortunate reality of modern democracy.   A fig leaf is occasionally offered in the form of public consultation, in which members of the public are given the opportunity to add their opinions into the decision-making process.

We see with the latest release of post-primary area-based plans by the Education and Library Boards across Northern Ireland that they will be opened to public consultation until the end of October.   The Department of Education must be applauded for recognizing the benefit and value in public consultation, but they must also acknowledge that such an exercise is pointless unless they ensure that there are mechanisms in place to make sure that all voices are heard equally, regardless of social disadvantage.

We are yet to see exactly how this consultation process will be rolled out.  How will the Department of Education ensure people are given an adequate level of information about the various options?  How will they engage with parents? There is not much time left once the long summer holiday is over. How will they ensure that those traditionally disconnected as a result of their own experiences of a failed education system will have an opportunity to and will be encouraged to contribute?   How will the Department seek to build capacity and empower disadvantaged communities to participate in the process?

Equally important, will the Department accept any new suggestions put forward through consultation?  For example in none of the released plans have there been many options for cross-sectoral sharing, a curiosity given the Minister’s injunction that the process should “identify realistic, innovative and creative solutions to address need, including opportunities for shared schooling on a cross sectoral basis” and his reminder of the commitment in the GFA toward integration.  If communities debate what they would like to see in their areas, and if the suggestions generated from those discussions are for the type of sharing that our legislation currently doesn’t allow, will the Education and Library Boards embrace those suggestions, and will the Department take those suggestions on board?

Anything short of commitments  both to ensure  an open and fully inclusive consultation, and  to act on suggestions, will negate any value in this consultation process and will represent a missed opportunity to genuinely challenge how education is being delivered in Northern Ireland.

My fear is that this consultation process will represent that missed opportunity and the Department will not fulfill their obligations.  It once again rests on the community and voluntary sector to rise to the challenge, and to venture into territory unknown. The burden now lies with community groups, who deal with the social effects of a failing education system but who often have no connection to educational planning, to ensure that people are informed and empowered to take this chance to influence different outcomes for education in Northern Ireland – outcomes that are community-driven, community-focused and locally-owned.


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