There are a total of 3,300 primary schools across the country, so it is quite amazing that a small rural school in Cavan is now right at the forefront when it comes to digital innovation.
Scoil Mhuire National School in Lacken showcased the first interactive classroom, with a national launch, last Wednesday afternoon in the presence of the Minister for Skills, Research and Innovation, Deputy Damien English.
Minister English praised the Lacken pupils as “ambassadors for the rest of the country”.
“Other schools are now going to follow your lead,” predicted Minister English.
“By winning this Digital School of Distinction Award, you proved that you are excelling in ICT in education,” enthused Minister English.
The futuristic room known in the school of 97 pupils, as the 'STEAM room’, affords the pupils the opportunity to showcase their learning talents right across the spectrum of subject disciplines, without books or paper; tablets, laptops and smart phones are the order of the day. STEAM stands for Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts, Maths.
While the guests of honour, including Minister English, Deputies Brendan Smith and Caoimhghin O’Caolain and Bishop Leo O’Reilly visited the books-free room, sixth class pupil Róisín Galligan told The Anglo-Celt, “I like it because it is hands on learning – if you make a mistake, you can try again and figure out how to do the task differently”.
ICT has been taken to a whole new level in the school and the school was described as having the 'E-Factors’, energy, excitement and enthusiasm and also being a complete success story. The virtues of all the teaching staff and the principal, Kevin Foley were also extolled by the various speakers.
Director of the Dublin West Education Centre, Gerard McHugh revealed that the STEAM Room, was the first of its kind in Ireland.
“We want to say that Irish primary schools are at the centre of this change and not on the periphery. The reason we are all gathered here today in Scoil Mhuire in Lacken, is to celebrate that this school is at the centre of that changing game,” he said.
“It is important that Irish schools become digital schools and consequently leaders in the world”.
He predicted that there were world leaders of the future in digital technology, sitting down in front of him in school uniforms.
Teacher Mags Amond said that between October 15-23, Scoil Mhuire will be the Irish HQ for a European-wide event called 'Bringing Ideas to Life’.
Minister English watched with interest as Ms Amond taught pupils about electricity, conductors, non-conductors and most importantly, semi-conductors which are the LEDs and the Diodes that run the computer industry.
Tony Riley who teaches in the 'STEAM Room’ said the fact that the school will be the Irish-based is “very exciting”.
“In the room we want to give them the taste of all the technologies that are out there – an important point is that they are not consumers of it, they are actually creators of it. We are giving them the tools to understand how the technology works and then let them have a taste of changing it, making it work for them and making it different. Once they know how technology works, they can change it.
“I can guarantee you that the next Steve Jobs will come through a school like this in Ireland. We have to encourage them and give them the tools, so that can happen,” said Tony.
“It is wonderful to see it happening in a small, very rural school like this and it does point up in a striking way, the value of small rural schools,” Bishop Leo O’Reilly said.
He looked forward to hearing about this becoming part of the educational scene in Ireland and that “this parish and this school, of which I am proud to be a patron, is first on the scene. Well done.”
Niall O’Sullivan, speaking on behalf of the Digital Schools of Distinction Initiative, said: “when we were validating the school, we had to appreciate and recognise the really innovative and evangelistic approach of the teachers in the school as far as using technology and teaching a learning works.
“I was given a tour of the STEAM room and it brought back memories of a recent trip I had to Finland and I realised that this school was achieving more in its approach to teaching and learning, using digital technology, than most schools nationally and internationally,” said Mr O’Sullivan.
Principal Kevin Foley said the learning in the STEAM room is the future and it is about using IT properly. “It is not a classroom, it is a learning space, it is a place to engage productively with each other and the teachers. Most importantly, this space at times will be pupil lead.”
He said that the STEAM room was an effort to get away from box ticking, and using books.
“It is about hands on learning – it’s about a return to quality coalface teaching from the heart and not from the book.”