The Next Leap


TREND 1: A Globally Competitive Generation with “Digital Instincts”

with 5 comments

The inputs of the IIEA’s consultative process showed that education was the key priority after infrastructure for virtually every stakeholder consulted across all strata of the digital sector. Different stakeholders placed emphasis on primary and secondary education or on tertiary and fourth level training and research. The creation of Irish digital consumers and producers would have benefits for business and the consumer alike. As the former Minister for Education noted in her foreword to Investing Effectively in ICT in Schools: 2008-2013, “the prevalence of ICT requires us to ensure that all citizens are capable of full participation in this digital world”. Stakeholders viewed education as the key to Ireland’s digital competitiveness in four respects:

First, it offers an opportunity to negate the advantage of far larger competitor nations by allowing us, through far-sighted educational reform, to produce a generation capable of competing with their global peers. The term “digital instincts” is coined here to reflect an underlying assumption of many stakeholders that it is necessary to instil a foundation of basic digital skills in young children if they are to be able to easily adapt to new technologies as they emerge.

Second, educational reform is imperative in the medium-term because multinational and indigenous businesses in Ireland require a sustainable supply of employees and find it increasingly difficult to source the necessary human capital from among the Irish population.

Third, educational reform is an opportunity to avert a “digital divide” among privileged and disadvantaged schools. Interest in technology should not be dependent on the level of interest in a child’s home.

Fourth, “world class” universities and advanced research are recognised prerequisites for a knowledge economy.

Stakeholders identified a number of negative factors that harm the prospect of a globally competitive generation in Ireland. There is no national approach in practice to digital education of primary students. The Department of Education Inspectorate’s 2008 report on ICT in Schools found that almost a third of primary school students in classes surveyed were computer illiterate to the extent that they were incapable of connecting to the Internet or of printing a document. Perhaps this is due, as the OSCE noted in 2005, to the particularly infrequent use by Irish students of computers in school. Nor are Irish schools suitably equipped. Another important negative factor is the ongoing decline in the number of students pursuing relevant subjects at secondary level, thereby throttling advanced research and training at tertiary and fourth level. Despite the ambitious goals of the 2006-2013 Strategy for Science, Technology and Innovation and the €8.2 bn allocated in the National Development Plan in support of the Government’s Strategy for Science, Technology and Innovation, some stakeholders were concerned about the performance of the universities.

These negatives should not be seen as a significant impediment to the speedy reform of our education system, and valuable work has already been done by many actors in this area, which can now be built upon.

Continue to Options for Government Action in A Globally Competitive Generation with “Digital Instincts”

Written by johnnyryan

13/12/2008 at 01:26

5 Responses

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  1. Good to hear that there was vehement agreement on this! Spot on. However, as at least one commentator said on an earlier page, the problem is that Ireland, once recognised for its not-very-expensive-but-effective education system, seems to have missed a trick or two. Most schools’ IT is rubbish, and even if there are some modern PCs and acceptable broadband, I’ve heard too many horror stories on PC skills – of the teachers! This is recognised above, and even to some extent in the new Government strategy, but I do wonder what can be done quickly.

    Third level is actually in better condition, and I really would get the first 2-3 levels fixed before wandering into invented country like “fourth level”.

    R Almatev

    18/12/2008 at 22:28

  2. One little suggestion might be to talk to the big tech companies, many of whom do internal training, about volunteering some classroom time, or at least doing some training of teachers. At least some Web training, but preferably some Mobile Internet and Web 2.0.

    R Almatev

    18/12/2008 at 22:30

  3. Education is indeed the key, and an area where Ireland once did well, despite under-funding. But perhaps we became a bit complacent, and at the same time there may have been some educational faddishness, though nothing like what hit the UK. And we failed, at all levels, to maintain investment: from primary to tertiary (where the fees “vote-winning trick” has seen real funding drop sharply). And to the best of my knowedge, in-school provision for IT remains pretty terrible, as the report also notes. We need to act, yes. In my opinion, we should focus on the basic subjects at primary, and if funding is genuinely constrained, put the emphasis on ensuring that all children have regular and properly-led access to IT at second level (children pick up the skills rapidly). Both of these are in turn higher priority for general funding and development than third-level, as we must ensure a pervasive appreciation of the field in the population. But we must also ensure we have a proper number (not too many) of really strong universities or colleges, looking to both our classic places of learning (TCD has done some fine work) and to those who have shown they can lead in this area, notably, as already mentioned, DCU (a pioneer in these topics), UL (the first to really understand the importance of cross-relations with the workplace) and Maynooth (a world leader in a number of areas, including one of the most important “next steps”: artificial intelligence). And yes, all these should have some degree of alignment across the country.

    The closing point re “speedy” I’ll come to on the next page.

    Looking at other comments, I especially like the idea of seeking “classroom” support from the technology world, especially as many leading companies there do have teaching facilities. Mobile learning and e-learning are also of course critical.

    J Doyle

    20/12/2008 at 11:35

  4. […] you read that “almost a third of primary school students in classes surveyed were computer illiterate to the extent…” you have to question the value of an expanding corporate digital presence if the social […]

  5. I’m now looking at the mathematics & sciences question in the strategic sense. – this comment from a post on my blog…

    I have been thinking about the following problem recently: Maths.
    In 2001, the bipartisan Hart-Rudman Commission warned that the failure of math and science education posed a greater threat to American power than any conceivable conventional war in the new century. In his 2005 book, and in later postings on his site, the conservative US politician Newt Gingrich, who was on the Hart-Rudman Commission, warned that “American high schools are obsolete”

    The collapse of math and science education in the US and the relative decline of investment in basic research is an enormous strategic threat to American national security. … Keeping America competitive in the twenty-first century is dependent upon having increasing number of students studying math and science.[source]

    David O’Meara, the CEO of Havok, the computer game and cinema physics company, raised Gingrich’s warning at the IIEA Digital Future Group in Dublin in early 2009. I had just completed The Next Leap report, and O’Meara’s Gingrich’s warning resonated.
    The questions this raises are, first, what is the relative decline between West and East in innovation, and second, what might be its future trajectory? I approached two mathematics researchers at Magdalene College, Cambridge, with an idea for a new book to tackle these questions. We are currently in talks with Springer about a book deal to work on this project. If all goes well, we will be examining the historical role of mathematics in the prosperity of states and civilisations, and its role in our future as global competitors in a new era of innovation.
    The answer to the question about the West’s decline, at least according to the Hart-Rudman Commission, is clear:

    In 1997, Asia alone accounted for more than 43 percent of all science and engineering degrees granted worldwide, Europe 34 percent, and North America 23 percent. In that same year, China produced 148,800 engineers, the United States only 63,000. [source (p.39)]

    While this is something that we will have to investigate more fully, these figures from 97 are interesting indicators. In Outliers, Gladwell grapples with the question of how mathematics is learnt in the East. When it comes to math, Gladwell says, “Asians have built-in advantage”:

    The number system in English is highly irregular. Not so in China, Japan and Korea. They have a logical counting system. Eleven is ten one. Twelve is ten two. Twenty-four is two ten four, and so on.
    That difference means that Asian children learn to count much faster. Four year old Chinese children can count, on average, up to forty. American children, at that age, can only count to fifteen, and don’t reach forty until they’re five: by the age of five, in other words, American children are already a year behind their Asian counterparts in the most fundamental of math skills.

    Gladwell also refers to Stanislas Dehaene’s The Number Sense:

    Chinese number words are remarkably brief. Most of them can be uttered in less than one-quarter of a second (for instance, 4 is ‘si’ and 7 ‘qi’) Their English equivalents—”four,” “seven”—are longer: pronouncing them takes about one-third of a second. The memory gap between English and Chinese apparently is entirely due to this difference in length. In languages as diverse as Welsh, Arabic, Chinese, English and Hebrew, there is a reproducible correlation between the time required to pronounce numbers in a given language and the memory span of its speakers. In this domain, the prize for efficacy goes to the Cantonese dialect of Chinese, whose brevity grants residents of Hong Kong a rocketing memory span of about 10 digits.

    But a follow on question arises, to which I do not yet have an answer: is there an innovative spark in the Western system that is lacking in the rote-based system in the East?Is it fair to talk about an Eastern rote system at all?
    More anon…


    16/04/2009 at 15:20

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