Last Thursday 3rd April, the US Embassy held an event in Dublin entitled ‘Smart People, Smart Economy’ (1). The message is clear – innovative economies require innovative education systems to develop the skills required to compete globally and generate economic growth.
As Steven Duggan from Microsoft pointed out during his keynote: technology has a central role to play in enabling innovation in education systems. Innovation in teaching, curriculum design and assessment can all be enabled through effective use of technology. But technology is the enabler – the innovation must start with new ways of looking at relationships, practices and measurement in education.
In a conversation with Paddy Cosgrave, Marcus Segal, Former COO of Zynga Games and Entrepreneur in Residence for the Web Summit, declared “what I’ve seen since 2009 is that I don’t think it’s possible to be a major global [tech] player without having an operation in Ireland.” He lay down the gauntlet for everyone present: let’s make the school system in Ireland one of the best school systems in the world.
On a breakout panel in the afternoon, the discussion turned to the EdTech ecosystem in Ireland and a wide ranging discussion with Sean O’Sullivan (SOS Ventures), Ciarán Cannon (Minister of State for Training and Skills ), Jonny Parkes (Versari Hub and Leaf Investments) and Martyn Farrows (Learnovate).
The reputation of Ireland as a centre of excellence in learning technologies is evidenced by the growing number of innovative EdTech companies. Yet the lack of a coherent national digital strategy for schools (2) often means that these innovations are focused solely on export markets such as the US.
Whilst there is very welcome innovation in the Irish education system, such as Junior Cycle reform, it is happening slowly – often too slowly to make best use of innovative technology. Hence the emergence of ground-up developments, such as mathletes.ie – a gamified national maths competition based on the Khan Academy (a not-for-profit which counts SOS Ventures as one of its biggest supporters) (3).
Supported by Ciarán Cannon and backed by Sean O’Sullivan, the focus of mathletes.ie is on ‘untraditional learning’ – or as O’Sullivan puts it: to change something, build a new model that disrupts the existing models.
Likewise, much of Leanovate’s recent work has focussed on powerful new learning approaches that are enabled by technology – informal and untraditional models that support educational innovation. Take a look at two recently-completed technologies (iLearn and Almanac) for just a couple of examples of what’s possible.
It’s now clear that mathletes.ie won’t be the last in grass roots-driven innovation in education, enabled by technology. At the end of the conference, the Minister took the opportunity of his closing speech last week to announce an event in Dublin Castle at the end of May to launch a ‘Digital Learning Movement’ – keep an eye on http://www.excited.ie for more details.
The conclusion? Ireland attracts the best global technology companies and produces some of the world’s most innovative EdTech companies. An innovative education system, supported by enabling technology, will undoubtedly support skills development to drive economic growth – and it will also provide a compelling shop window for Ireland as a world leader in EdTech.
(1) For videos of the Smart People, Smart Economy event see: https://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PL6sDcSCS8qsVCrI8h2UsmMSwROnM4Vi9Y
(2) Coincidentally, April 3rd was also the closing date for the Department of Education and Skills ‘Request for Quotes’ to appoint a Policy Analyst to aid the development of a new Digital Strategy for Schools.