INTO Panel Discussion On Digital Learning And The Primary School
Professional debate and dialogue is a vital part of the development of education policy and change. INTO’s annual Education Conference is one of the organisation’s opportunities to debate the changes and possibilities of the future of education and the consultative nature of the event allows for rich engagement and conversation among delegates. Unfortunately, due to Covid-19 and Public Health restrictions it was not possible to host a physical conference, but like so many other events this year, INTO moved to a virtual space and held an online panel discussion centered on the theme of ‘Digital Learning and the Primary School’.
The event was chaired by INTO President Mary Magner, with a panel comprising principals, teachers and other educators with expertise in digital technology. Following an introduction from Siobhán Lynskey, Chairperson of INTO’s Education Committee, the panel discussion commenced with insights from Paul Moroney, a teaching principal in Scartaglen National School, County Kerry and Loretta Dunphy, an administrative principals in a DEIS school in County Dublin. Paul has a keen interest in technology and demonstrated how his school has embraced digital learning, explaining how he encouraged and supported fellow teaching staff, pupils, and parents in this regard. Loretta then painted a very different picture of the experience of a DEIS school who, prior to the lockdown, had very limited experience of digital technology and was forced to employ other methods to provide continuity of learning to their pupils.
Caroline McCarthy spoke on behalf of teachers in Northern Ireland, sharing their experiences of school closures, and highlighting the challenges faced by schools. With a particular interest in special education, Caroline highlighted the concerns of teachers about the adverse effect of school closures on children with special education needs.
The panel was then joined by Clíona Ní Chiosáin of RTÉ School Hub fame, who was one of three teachers involved in a television programme that provided engaging lessons to thousands of pupils across the country each weekday during the lockdown period. ‘Múinteoir Clíona’ as she is probably better known to many, was also supporting her own pupils’ learning remotely during the school closures and she shared some inspiring examples of how she effectively managed this dual challenge.
The final two panellists, Ciara O’Donnell and Ciara Reilly, both spoke passionately about the tremendous efforts of primary teachers across Ireland in adapting to the exceptional circumstances that the Covi9-19 situation created. Ciara O’Donnell, as National Director of the Professional Development Service for Teachers (PDST), identified some of the key issues raised by teachers and those areas in which support was sought, whilst outlining how her team responded swiftly to meet these needs. Ciara Reilly, a lecturer in Digital Education in Education in Marino Institute of Education, spoke about how “teachers have shone, pivoting into platforms and zooming into homes” and emphasised the need for a model of sustained support for schools to allow transformational change. Whilst she welcomed recognition of the importance of technology by the Department of Education and noted the benefit of a uniformity within their guidance, she was keen to stress the variation that exists between school regarding access and availability of resources. “Sweeping demands” within the document cannot be realised “without kitting out teachers with the tools” that digital learning necessitates.
INTO’s Director of Research, Dr Deirbhile Nic Criaith offered concluding comments echoing the sentiments of the previous two speakers in thanking teachers for their continued hard work. The role of digital technology in the future of the primary school curriculum was acknowledged, as well as the organisation’s commitment to ensuring that teachers are afforded access to resources that they require in an increasingly digital world. This panel event, as mentioned by Deirbhile, is merely the beginning of an important conversation about the impact of digital technology in the primary school context.
The words of George Couros quoted by Paul Moroney towards the end of the discussion capture one of the key messages emerging from this conversation – Technology will not replace great teachers, but technology in the hands of great teachers can be transformational.
Read the Digital Learning and the Primary School background paper here.
Recording of the Panel Discussion
Paul Moroney is a teaching principal in Scartaglen National School, Co. Kerry. The school is involved in the School Excellence Fund – Digital and is also a Digital School of Distinction. Paul has an M.Ed. in ICT from Mary Immaculate College and is a member of the INTO Education Committee. He was recently elected as a primary representative for Munster on the Teaching Council. Paul is an advocate of the use of ICT to support children’s learning.
Loretta Dunphy is an administrative principal in St. Gabriel’s N.S, Ballyfermot, Dublin. Previously Loretta taught in a range of settings including primary, tertiary, and adult education in Ireland and overseas. She has worked in a variety of curriculum development areas from Literacy in primary schools in Hong Kong to the Stay Safe programme in Ireland. She completed a Masters in Leadership and Management with a research interest in Patronage and Pluralism. She volunteers as a mentor for Newly Appointed Principals with the Centre for School Leadership and is currently working towards an EQA Practitioner level diploma in Coaching. However, since taking up the role as principal 13 years ago in a DEIS band 1 school, her focus has turned to DEIS related initiatives and issues.
Caroline McCarthy is Chair of the Northern Committee of the INTO this year. She has represented primary school teachers from her area of Belfast West for the past 10 years. Caroline’s teaching background is special education, having taught children with Severe Learning Difficulties and Profound and Multiple Learning difficulties for the past 24 years. As well as developing a functional and resourceful curriculum within her own school she supported schools throughout the north of Ireland with the Council for the Curriculum, Examinations & Assessment (CCEA) with Quest for learning. Caroline is passionate believer in special education enabling achievement and fulfilment at all levels working with children, parents, carers, and multidisciplinary teams anything is possible.
Is múinteoirí bunscoile í Clíona Ní Chiosáin. Bhain sí céim amach sa Nua-Ghaeilge agus Fraincís ó Ollscoil na h-Éireann Má Nuad chomh maith le Máistreacht Oideachas (bunscoil) ó Roinn Froebel. Tá sí ag múineadh le ceithre bliana anuas. Chaith sí trí bliana i Scoil Bhríde Cailíní i mBaile Bhlainséar (i ranganna príomhsrutha agus rang uathachais) agus sula dtosaigh sí ag múineadh i Scoil Mhuire, Moynalty, i gContae na Mí. Tá go leor taithí aici i gcúrsaí teilifíse le ceithre bliana déag anuas. Bhí sí mar láithreoir ar chláracha do pháistí – ‘How To Do Everything’ agus ‘Tír Na N-Óg’ ina measc. Le linn an chéad dianghlasáil, bhí Clíona agus beirt múinteoirí eile ag cur ceachtanna i láthair do pháistí bunscoile ar an ‘RTÉ Homeschool Hub’. Faoi láthair, tá sí ar ais ar ár scáileáin teilifíse ar an ‘Afterschool Hub’ ar RTÉ.
Ciara O’ Donnell is the National Director of the Professional Development Service for Teachers (PDST), the Department of Education’s largest national cross sectoral Continuing Professional Development provider. Ciara is a primary school teacher and worked in Bawnogue National School, Clondalkin as a class teacher and Home School Community Liaison Co-ordinator. Ciara has worked in teacher education with the DE support services since 2005 when she joined the Primary Curriculum Support Programme (PCSP) where she held the position of SESE Co-ordinator in the 99 Curriculum support team. She was later appointed to the position of Deputy Director with the Primary Professional Development Service (PPDS) with responsibility for the CPD design and delivery of curricular supports. On the establishment of the PDST, she held the position of Deputy Director for Research, Policy and Development before being appointed National Director in 2013.
Ciara Reilly is an Assistant Lecturer in Digital Education at the Marino Institute of Education, working across various undergraduate and postgraduate programmes. She was previously a primary school teacher in St. Peter’s Primary in Bray and has also worked as an Advisor in Digital Technologies for the PDST Digital Technologies team. She is a Doctoral student in Digital Learning in DCU, a Trustee of US