Every year, I try to predict what the big stories will be in primary education in Ireland. 2016, for me, will be best remembered by being forgotten. It was a very disappointing year on all fronts with very little happening – almost as if someone had hit the pause button on the sector. Nothing seemed to happen and anything that seemed to be happening in 2015 didn’t get started in 2016, see Droichead, new Primary Language Curriculum, Divestment of Schools, etc.
It is rather tempting to simply copy and paste my predictions from last year and I wouldn’t be surprised if anyone noticed! However, I will resist that temptation and be brave and make a few predictions.
I think the big story of 2017 in Primary Education will be the roll out of the Primary Language Curriculum. I don’t think the curriculum itself will be the story, I think it will be the reaction from teachers. I have been to 2 introductory training sessions so far and I am none the wiser about this new curriculum. On the face of it, it seems like a much better curriculum to the 1999 effort, though that would not be difficult, but the more and more I look at it and the more and more I go to these training courses, the more and more I become confused by it. Despite reducing the number of learning outcomes to 93, it still seems to have way too many and I think it could easily have been cut in half. Feedback so far from teachers on the ground is that it is very confusing. Anyway, my prediction is that the confusion will be so widespread that the PDST will have to rewrite their training programme and deliver it again.
Most people won’t have noticed that the INTO directive forbidding schools to engage with SSE is still happening. For some very strange reason, the INTO issued this directive in 2016 in protest at the slow rate of reversing the moratorium on positions of responsibility. I predict posts will be back in 2017 in a much reduced form but without any of the much needed changes to how they work. I predict schools will get about 50% of the posts they lost and they will be in the same format as they were before the recession.
I also think the Droichead debacle will finally come to an end in 2017. The model will end up being a weak compromise where students will leave college and will receive a year of mentoring. At the end of the year of mentoring, the new teacher will be considered “inducted.” This model will be flawed but will keep most people happy and the Teaching Council will claim that this was what they wanted from the very start. This massive upheaval in primary education will end with a limp.
Fresh from this “victory” the Teaching Council will step up its other agenda, Cosán, which has been overshadowed by Droichead. I predict this won’t have the same impact and there will be some ridiculous arrangements made as to what will qualify as professional development before it is accepted by the unions.
2017 is going to be another disappointing year for minority faiths and those of no faith. I do not see any movement to treat all of our pupils equally in primary schools by biting the bullet and separating church and state. The only thing I can see is that there will be more children in 2017 “opting out” of faith formation classes and the battles with David Quinn continuing on quiet news weeks when there’s nothing else to talk about. Someone will comment on a newspaper article during the year: “if they want equality, they should open their own schools or go back to their own country.”
Moving away from the politics and into the classrooms, 2017 will be an interesting year for those waiting for technology news. Everyone will be eagerly awaiting their shiny ICT classroom grant and will inevitably be disappointed when it isn’t as much as it should be. Despite the government giving guidelines on how to spend the money, some schools will buy a load of iPads and then wonder why they don’t connect to their Interactive Whiteboards and then wonder why their 1Mb Internet connection isn’t able to support them and then wonder why nobody told them that a decent wifi infrastructure should have been in place and will set them back another few thousand euro. They will then wonder why no one is using the iPads and are still bringing in their own laptops. However, no one will blame these schools because, ultimately there’s very little one can do with the money we’re going to get.
I believe schools will get a few thousand euro and companies will compete to get them to spend it as quickly as possible – iPads and touchscreen televisions will be top of the sellers’ lists. However, I would caution schools who don’t have a professional wifi set up in their schools to prioritise this over anything else. If schools take heed of this advice, it will be a bumper year for wifi resellers. However, a dark horse, which never took off last year in the technology world are Chromebooks. The wily school will take a good luck at these devices and may find their few thousand euro well invested but only if they have a decent wifi set up.
I also see coding becoming a noisier word in primary schools. Richard Bruton appears to be following the train of thought that if he says “coding” enough times, we’ll all just do it. The weird thing is that I believe this tactic will have some success and I believe we will see a number of schools taking on coding as part of the natural school day. Sadly, like everything in ICT, there doesn’t appear to be any concrete plan so schools will just make it up as they go along. This means some schools are going to find themselves in inequitable positions depending on the quality of the coding they are doing. The only thing that can be guaranteed is that Scratch will replace Gaeilge as the second most used language in primary schools!
Given the fragile state of the government and considering they did almost nothing in primary education in 2016, I don’t expect too many big surprises in 2017. In fact, I’ve exaggerated a little bit in my predictions just to amuse myself because I don’t really believe 2017 will have much to offer in terms of primary education. The only thing that will change that is a new education minister but there doesn’t appear to be anyone out there that will do anything differently. Even though I’ve only set myself the challenge of predicting one year on, I’m sensing the primary education sector is in for a dreary time for the foreseeable future.