Ireland’s Transition to Digital-Age Teaching and Learning

The visit with the CoSN delegation is off to a great start.  We spent time with national education leaders at dinner on Sunday and for the morning on Monday, learning about their vision and plan for bringing the country’s education system into the digital age, and then we spent Monday afternoon at a very innovative school that I’m sure is at the forefront of implementing the national vision for its students.

Minister of Education Richard Burton and Member of Parliament Ciaran Cannon set the stage, discussing their Digital Strategy for Schools, 2015-2020: Enhancing Teaching, Learning and Assessment plan, which sets the vision, and the just released (Sept 15, 2016) Action Plan for Education, 2016-2019, which provides specific objections and actions for the next three years.  We also met with the leaders of the “ExcitEd Movement,” Frank Walsh, Bernard Kirk, Gerald McHugh and Linda Cardiff, who are deeply dedicated and creative in addressing their mission, which includes:

  • Connecting: We are building a national network of groups and individuals with a common vision for education and a desire to be powerful advocates for change.
  • Championing: We seek out trailblazing teachers and students across Ireland and encourage others to be inspired by their work and follow in their footsteps.
  • Creating: We are collaborating with education and industry leaders to create a world-class digital learning ecosystem where innovation is nurtured and facilitated.

ExcitEd is clearly playing an important role in fostering changes, providing professional development, informing policymakers, and building learning communities among educators.

Next, we heard from Fred Boss and Ben Murray from the National Council for Curriculum and Assessment (NCCA), which is responsible for developing the national curriculum standards, curriculum resources, and student assessments.  Their current focus is on revising the “Junior Cycle” curriculum — junior cycle is equivalent to our middle school grades.  They have developed a framework that applies to all areas of the curriculum, and are working through a multi-year plan that includes everything from “maths” (which is plural here) to visual arts to home economics.  One innovation is that they are introducing a series of short courses to provide flexibility to the schools and offer more choice for students.  They are very involved in portfolio approaches to assessment, introducing computational thinking and coding into the schools, fostering collaborative learning, and the overall integration of personalize learning supported by technology.

Their goals and challenges certainly are very similar to our work in North Carolina and that in many other U.S. states.  Ireland is the size of many U.S. states, with about 900,000 students in its K-12 schools.  It is more centrally managed that our systems, with one national set of standards, curriculum and assessments; national funding for all schools; and one contract for all teachers, negotiated with national unions (one for primary school and one for secondary school teachers, I believe).  Teaching is a highly regarded profession and many teachers stay at the same school for their entire careers–they don’t have the teacher recruitment and retention issues we have, although they do have concerns about the content knowledge level of many STEM teachers.  While the population is predominantly white, Catholic and English speaking (with all students also learning Irish), in some areas they have many new immigrants; from Somalia and Kenya in the recent past; currently from Syria and Iraq; along with many other countries.  So while there are differences between the education situation in Ireland and in the U.S., there are certainly many similarities that enable us to learn from each other.  They are also, for example, they are also moving away from an approach that was overly focused on and limited by standardized testing.

A final note — I’ll add a later blog about the school visit — the people are delightful, open and eager to share ideas, break bread together (along with beer and whisky of course), discuss their history and culture, and demonstrate the Irish skills of storytelling and great humor.




After sharing our CoSN Ireland trip agenda with my father, on my way to the airport, I get an email that says— “The statue of Robert Emmett is in St Stephens Green, just like the one in Emmetsburg”  This is where my parents are from.

 So on Saturday, our guide helps us find Robert Emmet in the Green and we take a picture.   It is pretty cool that the statue I remember in the town square as a child is also in Dublin—it makes the connection and my trip a bit more personnel.  Which sparks my interest in who this guy Emmet is and why he has a statue and a town named after him. 


Turns out there are four copies of the statue, one in Dublin, one in Washington DC, one in San Francisco and one In Emmetsburg Iowa and Robert Emmet is a big deal in Ireland.  But the story about how the statue got to Iowa is the best! Here is the article that I found explaining how “A Small Town Struggles to Preserve Its Irish Heritage”

Bottom line, as we begin our delegation to Ireland to learn about education and technology in the schools I wonder what other connections we will find.





An impressive plan of action

Our arrival as COSN delegates here in Dublin came just days after the publication of the Action Plan for Education 2016-2019, an initiative of Minister of Education and Skills Richard Bruton, establishing the ambitious goal of making Ireland’s education and training services the best in Europe by 2026. We were fortunate to learn many of the details of this Action Plan earlier today and honored to be able to engage in a robust dialogue with Minister Bruton and a number of other national education leaders. Minister Bruton, as quoted on the release of the plan, said: “Excellent and innovative education and training are the pivot around which personal fulfillment, a fair society and a successful nation should revolve. It is central to sustaining economic success and in converting economic success into building a strong community.”

The Action Plan details five specific goals to be achieved through 139 actions and hundreds of additional sub actions. The first goal – improve the learning experience and the success of learners – is just one of at least a dozen areas in which the education reform efforts underway here in Ireland bear striking similarity to reforms being implemented in states and communities back on our side of the Atlantic. However, the Department’s plan is not short on strategies and examples of success that seem fresh, bold, and worthy of close observation in the months and years to come.  There is a significant focus on increasing the use of ICT in teaching, learning, and assessment. One objective calls for a heightened focus on entrepreneurship, creativity, and innovation, including benchmarking entrepreneurial activity in higher education and work with the higher education authority to ensure an “ambitious and implementable plan to identify and address skills gaps, ICT, and STEM needs.”

The plan also feels appropriately weighty with strategies for supporting the educator workforce through Continuous Professional Development (CPD), reforms of initial teacher education (ITE) and teacher induction, and a revision of entry criteria for ITE programs.

At the close of this day filled with idea sharing, I’m struck by the notion that there is much more to be learned from our gracious hosts than our short stay here will allow.

Fixing an Irish Ed System, according to Ciaran Cannon

Today the CoSN delegation had the impressive opportunity to meet with Ciaran Cannon, a member of Ireland’s parliment and former Minister for Training & Skills at the Department of Education & Skills.  Here is a terrific Op-Ed he recently published in the Irish Tech Times.  Ciaran is a passionate advocate for reimagining learning with technology.

DisconnectEd. How do we fix an education system that is rapidly losing touch with reality? Ciaran Cannon, Galway TD

1916 & Now

by Ann McMullan

Upon our arrival in Dublin on Friday, September 22, one of my first impressions was the fact that the city and its people are steeped in the history of their country. Evidence of that is seen in the architecture, statuary, commercial business sites, entertainment and more. This year, 2016, is a particularly special moment in time for the residents of Dublin. Throughout this year Dubliners are commemorating the 100-year anniversary of what came to be known as The Easter Rising, an insurrection that was led by Irish republicans who sought to end British rule in Ireland. The timing of this revolt was complicated by the fact the Britain was heavily engaged in the First World War at the same time and many families in Ireland had soldiers fighting for Britain in that war. Initially the rebels did not have a lot of support in Ireland. However, the aftermath of the 1916 Easter Rising and the British reaction to the rebels helped sway opinion in support of the movement. In 1917 the formation of a broad political movement under the banner of Sinn Féin continued the call for Irish independence. The 26-county Irish Free Sate was established by Treaty in 1922. Six counties in Northern Ireland gained Home Rule but remained part of the United Kingdom.

As we traveled throughout the city, signs bearing the date “1916” could be seen on almost every street. On Sunday morning, 9/25, we were provided a guided tour of Kilmainham Gaol, a jail originally built in Dublin in 1895. Fourteen of the rebels who led the 1916 Easter Rising were executed at Kilmainham Gaol. In recognition of the 1916 uprising there is now a special exhibit titled “1916 Portraits and Lives”, at Kilmainham Gaol that illustrates the events surrounding the Easter Rising. A copy of the weekly Irish Times from April 29 through May 13, 1916, is one of the artifacts on display.

It is fascinating to be among the Irish citizenry who – though steeped in tradition – are major players in today’s technological revolution. In the days ahead the CoSN international delegation will be visiting with political leaders, education ministers, teachers, students and technology industry leaders to learn how this latest “revolution” is impacting teaching and learning in Ireland and Northern Ireland.

Comparing Ireland to Washington State

I have been enjoying learning a lot about Ireland’s history and culture over the past couple of days. It is amazing to see buildings that were constructed so many years ago. For example, this morning we visited Kilmainham Gaol. This is a prison that was built in 1796 and used for over 100 years before the infamous housing and execution of the leaders of the 1916 Easter Rising.

Comparing this to Washington State, around this time, British Captain Vancouver discovered the Puget Sound and mapped the Washington coast. I am pretty sure that there were no buildings then that are still around now.

This got me thinking about how the country of Ireland compares to the state of Washington in K-12 education. Here is some data that I have been able to put together:

Ireland Washington State
Population 4.5 million 7.1 million
K-12 students About 1 million About 1 million
Budget for education $10.2 billion (includes some post secondary funding) $13.2 billion (just for general education)
% of students who graduate 89% 78%
% of students who go to post-secondary schools 67% 61%

As I have the opportunity to meet education officials, school staff and leaders of education initiatives in Dublin and Belfast, over the next week, I wonder what other similarities and differences that I will find.

I suspect that they have the same challenges that we are faced with in K-12 education and I hope that I can get some ideas of how they are addressing these to bring back to Washington State. I am already getting great ideas and links to valuable resources from my fellow delegates and am so appreciative that CoSN has created this wonderful program.

Ireland, Here We Come!

May you have the hindsight to know where you’ve been, the foresight to know where you are going, and the insight to know when you have gone too far.  Traditional Irish saying

I have only been to Ireland once before, but I was totally charmed.  I am confident that the lucky individuals coming on the CoSN delegation will have an amazing experience.  If the past tells us anything, it is that we will learn much about how ICT in education is being used in innovative ways to improve learning.  And, we will forge strong friends, both those with whom we meet along the way, as those whom we travel with.

I want to thank Irene, as well as our partners in Ireland who have organized an amazing week.

Finally, as I say to every CoSN delegation, this will likely be a powerful learning experience (perhaps even life-changing), yet it is not truly about you.  You are the eyes and ears for all the school leaders and policymakers from our country who cannot travel to Ireland.  This blog, as well as the final report, is a way for them to share in the experience.  Share what you see and learn.trinity-college


Getting Ready

Getting ready for our adventure as part of the CoSN Delegation to Ireland… and very exciting to contemplate the learning experiences that will take place during our days in Dublin and Belfast.

We have a series of high level meetings with policymakers in both Ireland and North Ireland – first time that a CoSN Delegation will be meeting with two Ministers of Education –Richard Bruton in Dublin and Peter Weir, Minister of Education in Belfast …and two members of Parliament – Ciaran Cannon, Member of the Irish Parliament and Pam Cameron , elected Member of the Northern Ireland Assembly

Our agenda will allow us to really delve into the Irish experience in ICT – and the policies that support their use, the professional learning that takes place and the invocations that are occurring.

And our visits to St. Patrick’s N.S. and Le Chéile, Tyrrellstown, will allow us to see how policy is translated into practice.

Travel well – looks like we might get some rain so remember to pack the umbrella – and check out the headlines in the Irish Times

See you in Dublin



ireland-mapWe are finalizing plans for what promises to be an exciting visit to Ireland. It will be a busy week with meetings and visits to amazing schools.

Lots of good things — and we look forward to having you as part of the delegation.

Irene Spero and Keith Krueger