Digital Learning must be fully embedded in teaching and learning throughout the whole span of the education process. Best practice recommends that this includes the sometimes forgotten Early Learning and Care settings. A concerted effort was made in Ireland to include this best practice at all levels.
The evidence from inspection indicates that there are variations in the extent to which digital technologies are embedded in teaching and learning in Irish schools and in Early Learning and Care settings. Overall, it is evident that schools and individual teachers and practitioners have progressed the use of digital technologies as part of teaching and learning at different rates, and that much remains to be done across the system to develop guidance, practice and pedagogy in relation to the use of digital technologies.
Almost all schools in the 2019 sample had taken positive first steps to move practice forward. A significant majority of schools had created a digital learning plan. There were many positive examples of practice in classrooms settings where digital technologies were integrated purposefully.
There were also examples of the use of digital technology in ELC settings. Further research and engagement with the ELC sector is needed in order to develop guidance as to what constitutes good practice in young children’s use of digital technology within ELC settings. There are also examples of the use of digital technology by practitioners in recording observations of practice and as an additional support for communication with parents.
In a significant proportion of lessons in the 2019 sample (45% in primary schools and 38% in post-primary schools), digital technologies were not a feature of teaching and learning. A particularly interesting finding was inspectors’ judgements that learning would have been enhanced if digital technologies were used in a majority of those lessons where digital technologies were not in use. While acknowledging that there are lessons, topics and times where digital technology is not necessarily the most appropriate approach, this finding nonetheless points to the fact that digital technologies are underutilised in many schools and classrooms.
The reasons for this apparent underuse and under-realisation of the potential of digital technologies vary from context to context. Some schools have not thought sufficiently about how they will integrate digital technologies and have not planned adequately for their use. The knowledge, experience and confidence of teachers in terms of digital technologies are all key factors. Some schools and ELC settings have difficulties with connectivity to high-speed broadband, while others cite a lack of resources. In the ELC sector, there is a need for additional policy advice and CPD supports in relation to the use of digital technologies in ELC settings.
The Digital Strategy for Schools presents a clear vision for the use of digital technologies in Irish schools and classrooms. The strategy does not reference the ELC sector. While Aistear, the Early Childhood Curriculum Framework refers to the possibility of using ICT and digital technologies