Ireland can leapfrog the world on digital education
Chief education officer of Promethean, Jim Wynn
Chief education officer of Promethean Jim Wynn believes Ireland’s delay in digitising Irish schools and the curriculum could play to our advantage and help us leapfrog other countries.
Education technology giant Promethean’s chief education officer Jim Wynn is fervent in his belief that Ireland has an opportunity to leapfrog other countries in terms of technology in education, turning its disadvantage in terms of digital rollout in schools to its advantage.
In doing so, he says Ireland could create a powerful global export market for digitally-based delivery of quality education at second and third-level.
As Wynn puts it, digital education is not just about computers in schools, it is about making the curriculum a digital curriculum.
“Children in Irish schools need to be equipped with 21st-century work skills, such as digital research, not just users of the internet but discerning, creative and collaborative workers.
“Schools who intend to deploy digital technology need to ensure policies are in place so every teacher and classroom makes use of the technology,” he says.
Wynn, who is education giant Promethean’s authority figures on digital education, is no stranger to Ireland. In previous roles with Cisco and Microsoft, he developed a close understanding of the nation’s digital readiness and has worked on projects with IDA Ireland on helping the country to position itself for growth in the digital economy.
Promethean, which has kitted thousands of Irish schools out with whiteboards and technology-enabled learning and teaching tools, has the stated aim of unlocking the potential of human achievement in education and training at all ages around the world.
It does so by creating, developing, supplying and supporting leading edge, interactive learning technology and by encouraging the growth of the world's largest online teacher community in this field. In these ways, Promethean is helping bring to life the promise of 21st-century learning, improving engagement and results for learners and teachers alike.
Wynn believes that all public-sector services in Ireland and overseas are under intense pressure to reduce costs and therefore there needs to be some fresh thinking in education to see how the service can be made fit for the third millennium within much smaller budgets.
Student achievement must keep improving even in this climate. Other appropriate learning experiences, such as collaboration, must be introduced if learners are going to be fit for the world they will join after school, especially if Ireland is to succeed as an innovation hub. These trends and others suggest that some serious thinking has to be done around the curriculum, assessment and how courses are fundamentally constructed and delivered.
Wynn says that all countries around the world are trying to figure out the best routes forward in terms of digital infrastructure, digital education, boosting jobs and skill levels and becoming a better digital society.
“If you could answer all the questions around these areas you could become a very rich man,” he jokes.
Technology in education
He points out one of his greatest frustrations with the way countries approach ICT in schools.
“These are big issues and there are few places on the planet that have got these things right. The problem is in most cases people just talk about technology, but not what to do with it. There is no proper planning.
“Technology in education is often project managed at a country level down to implementation. But time and time again the thinking isn’t eclectic enough.
“So you put broadband in each school. So what? We need to ask ourselves what is it doing what it is meant to be doing, over and over again. What people don’t talk about when it comes to technology in education, beyond computers in classrooms, is the digital curriculum – how the technology merges with the syllabus.”
Wynn believes passionately in Ireland’s potential as an education hub, locally and globally, and in the quality of Irish education.
“Where Ireland is in a sense a little behind in digital education is its opportunity. If the country takes a breath and does it properly it could leapfrog everybody else. The country is small enough, it has the need and if there’s enough will it can do it. There’s no other country in the developed world that is better placed than Ireland to leapfrog other countries in terms of digital education.”
Wynn says he believes that introducing technology in classrooms needs to be addressed fundamentally by merging it with the overall curriculum and in turn equipping future generations of graduates with 21st century work skills.
“If you research today, it is more efficient to go online than to go into a library. If we aren’t teaching kids digital research skills then we are failing them in the classroom. If you want digital talent then you’ve got to nurture this talent in schools. This is a talent that you can’t build as a casual Facebook or YouTube user, it has to be treated more seriously than that.”
Export market opportunity
Wynn also believes Ireland could develop a strong export market in addressing educational needs in other countries, just like the Royal College of Surgeons opened up a strong market in Bahrain to teach medicine.
“In terms of job creation there is a major opportunity in exporting learning digitally. For example, less than 10pc of students in Africa go to university. If Ireland makes it possible it could deliver high quality training and education. Ireland has all the potential, the indigenous talent base and most importantly, it has the brand.”
An example of what could be possible would be delivering high quality education assets via platforms like iTunes or Amazon, for example, to devices like the iPhone, iPad or the Kindle e-reader.
This goes back to Wynn’s initial point about the need for more eclectic thinking and entrepreneurial zeal in a sector that hasn’t really changed much in hundreds of years.
“My main point is if people just digitise what’s already there instead of creating a proper curriculum, then we’re missing the point and it will lead to a disaster.
“If we aren’t teaching kids digital research skills then we’re failing them in the classroom. We need to be thinking through the various parts of the curriculum, not just focusing on bandwidth. That is wasting time.”
Wynn argues that what is really needed is policies for 21st-century learning that take into account new fields like programming and marrying them with traditional fields like music and geography, which are excelling today thanks to various digital music technologies and free apps like Google Earth and Google Maps.
“There are schools today that have massive amounts of technology and there are schools that don’t. Some schools that have the technology lock it away in a cupboard and it hasn’t been used properly. That’s because the head of the department in many cases hasn’t written a policy and people hadn’t been trained to use it.
“A top-down policy approach to 21st-century learning will mean a physics teacher who may be working between schools can pick up exactly where he or she left off using technology in a way that is standard and understood across the system.
“You will find that thought leadership in this space is going to be quite exciting,” Wynn concludes.
Jin Wynn has over three decades of experience in education technology across more than 50 countries. He joined Promethean from Cisco, where he led their public sector consultancy for emerging markets, with an emphasis on education. His previous appointments include head of two secondary schools in the UK where he pioneered the use of ICT, head of research at RM Plc, and partners in learning lead for EMEA at Microsoft.
Wynn’s in-depth global experience, both in education systems and serving education for highly recognised technology players, is further strengthening Promethean’s leading global position in the interactive learning technology market.
Jim Wynn is one of the panelists at The Digital Ireland Forum, a Silicon Republic breakfast event on 30 September 2011.