The future of the Irish economy depends on the digital education of our children

IT HAS BEEN REPORTED earlier this week Facebook plans to create 10,000 additional new jobs in the EU. Given that the huge tech company is headquartered in Dublin, it is hoped that Ireland will benefit from the move.

One would also have to have lived under a rock in recent weeks to miss the discussion on the corporate tax rate in Ireland and the upcoming international agreement on global taxation of multinationals. Many will believe that Ireland has become a critical hub for tech companies simply because of this tax rate.

But many others will also say that it is not that simple and that it is also due to our highly skilled workforce. The quality of our teaching staff is undoubtedly an important factor. I have had the pleasure of working with many teachers during my career and they are an essential and first-rate cog in the Irish educational machine.

This may be an argument for another day and the next rate hike will be worth watching in years to come. It is difficult to say whether these changes are affecting the rate of foreign direct investment here, but if we are to continue this strong international technological presence, we need to close the gaps in our education system in Ireland to meet future demand.

As it stands, all of the big tech companies – Google, Facebook, LinkedIn, Airbnb – have significant bases in Ireland, as Dublin is rapidly asserting itself as Europe’s Silicon Valley. But can our education system adapt to a rapidly changing job market to fill the positions these companies create?

Change focus

Institute of the future, a leading organization in foresight education and the future supported by 20 renowned technological, business and academic experts said in 2017 that 85% of the jobs that will exist in 2030 have not yet been invented.

Our modern education systems have served us well for the past 200 years or so and the model suited the post-industrial age, but now we are operating in the technological age, bringing about sweeping and disruptive changes. It is therefore important that our education system now evolves to allow young people to thrive in this changing world.

The Irish education system has recently been reported to have the lowest investment among 36 OECD countries. Yet our 25-34 year olds are significantly above the OECD average when it comes to holding postgraduate degrees, and tech companies continue to invest in recruiting and office space here.

With Brexit, Covid-19 and all the other uncertainties we face locally and globally, how can we ensure that we maintain and strengthen our position as a critical place for tech companies to take hold? The answer can only be: start school.

Digital wave

The Irish “Digital Strategy for Schools” ran from 2015 to 2020, and a new strategy is currently in the consultation phase. Schools have seen an influx of technical investment during this time, and I have personally seen a significant increase in the use of technology in the classroom.

We’re a long way from the finish line at this point, with huge investments still needed in most schools across the country in broadband, wifi, student devices and teacher training. So what else should we do to maximize the potential of our students for the future?

Craig Fenton, Director of Strategy and Operations at Google, said recently “There is not a lot of intersection between the needs of businesses and what the school system teaches.” Core subjects (language, math, arts, history, geography, etc.) will always be important, and he was also very clear about this, but that doesn’t change the fact that we don’t deliver what the work needs.

If we are to take a real leap forward in meeting this demand, we must first take a moment to appreciate how much we have achieved despite relatively low levels of investment in education to date, and then proceed to bold changes. It means a collective effort on the part of parents, teachers and government.

There is no point in changing the school curriculum to train children for jobs that companies cannot fill in 2021, we need to be much more ambitious, dynamic and forward-looking than that. We need to integrate technology into education at the same level that it has been integrated into our daily life outside of the school environment.

Invest in digital

Imagine a scenario where the kids come home and open a folder in the cloud to show their parents a video they made about a coding project or science experiment. Consider the problem-solving skills, the valuable math skills involved in it, and how it lines up with the things kids naturally enjoy doing – making things and showing them to their parents, peers, and teachers.

To be clear – I’m not advocating “more screen time” – just as using Google Maps or booking a hotel online doesn’t take away the fun of your vacation – I’m advocating more efficient use and smarter technology to support learning. I advocate for the practical use of technology in and around educational institutions to help children and young people be in the best position for the jobs of the future and to master coding and digital skills in a way that’s right. to their way of life.

We’ve discovered through the work we do that technology can unleash all of this in a very personalized way. A child’s writing, speaking, creativity and more skills can intersect with the use of technology and teamwork and collaboration can be much easier to achieve. It’s not just for older children, all of these skills are accessible in one form or another from an early age.

What needs to change?

The new Digital Strategy for Schools must include three key elements if we are to take full advantage of the opportunities available to us; (1) an appropriate financial investment, (2) ongoing training and support for teachers and students, and (3) a proactive and positive approach to monitoring progress in schools.

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Programs such as “Digital learning groups” who provided project-based digital learning funding for schools, can and should see increased funding; other programs like Digital Schools of Distinction should see higher levels of investment and integration with the digital learning framework to keep the focus on schools, and schools need appropriate and ongoing infrastructure investments.

There are still schools in Ireland that have insufficient access to devices for pupils, poor broadband access and, of course, insufficient support for all teachers and pupils. For this change to happen, we need all levels of society to take this issue / opportunity seriously – parents need to engage with their local TDs, schools need to be properly supported and motivated, and government needs to respond Consequently.

Only when we truly understand the opportunity and the challenges we face in maximizing the opportunity can we then begin to support our teachers, drive policies and engage with employers in ways that ensure Ireland can again face seemingly insurmountable obstacles and come out on top.

Gavin Molloy is Product Manager at Education Olus, a recent merger of The Academy of Code and Cocoon Education.

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