Limerick research centre boss backs computers in schools

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Professor Brian Fitzgerald, chief scientist with Lero, the Limerick-based  software research centre.  Picture: Alan Place/Fusionshooters.
Professor Brian Fitzgerald, chief scientist with Lero, the Limerick-based software research centre.
Picture: Alan Place/Fusionshooters.

THE chief scientist at Limerick-based Irish Software Research Centre, Lero, says that media coverage of a recent OECD report distorts the value of computers in schools.

Professor Brian Fitzgerald warns of a danger that Irish policy makers, parents and teachers could misinterpret the findings of the report, which prompted headlines such as: ‘Schools wasting money on computers for kids’.

“The key challenge is not to reduce the use of computers or the internet in Irish schools but to show how this technology can be used more effectively to train students in problem solving and collaboration,” said Professor Fitzgerald.

“The ancient Greeks were concerned that writing would dis-improve memory and make people more forgetful. But no one nowadays believes that we shouldn’t teach people to write.

“In a similar way, the OECD report appears to show negative consequences associated with the use of computers. However, in countries who do see improvements in student performance when using computers, it is clear that the necessary skills to take advantage of this technology have also been incorporated into the curriculum.”

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Professor Fitzgerald warned that “you cannot make the most of 21st century technology against a backdrop of 20th century teaching methods”.

“A key goal for Ireland should be to train teachers at all levels to exploit technology for the benefit of their students and add computing to the Leaving Cert cycle,” he added.

Lero (www.lero.ie) has developed a Junior Cycle Short Course in Coding and strongly recommends the creation of a Computer Science course at Leaving Cert level to teach students how to use computers to analyse and solve problems.

Since 2007, Lero has run the ‘Scratch’ education and outreach programme, using a tool developed by the MIT Media Lab, to encourage primary and post-primary students to learn about computing and software development.

More than 3,000 primary and post-primary teachers have completed Scratch training in conjunction with PDST (Professional Development Service for Teachers) in Education.