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Friday, 24 February 2012

A Question of Skills and Interest Lacking in Ireland

An Irish Times online article in January exhibited a problem I have seen since I have been in Ireland. The technology gap is obvious even in the social sphere. I have sat in cyber-cafes where a few foreigners, non-Irish, have been the only ones with computers, or cells, online. Why? In the States, such cafes would be full of students online having coffee and discussing things. The same was true in other European countries I have visited recently-lots of cyber activity. Walking around Dublin, the capitol for several days, I have seen two middle-aged men with laptops, and no youths with such or notebooks, but plenty of young people. Even cell phones are rare. Why? Why do so many cafes not even have Wifi? In one of the most popular malls in Dublin, only one cafe has Wifi, and only for 20 minutes at a time.  I was amazed, and was perplexed until I saw a chart from 2009-2010 which indicated that out of 29 countries in technological skills, Ireland was 24th. Not good. And, the article quoted here shows me the problem-the education system is way behind the need. Is it money, or a lack of creativity, or what? I have been watching students come and go in an area with Wifi, and not one has been Irish. Let me quote the article The entire curriculum in science and technology needs creative restructuring. Not one single Irish student should be able to finish their years of schooling without knowing some basic programming. One thing is for sure: unless something is done, our poor showing in ICT, starting at schools level, will increasingly limit this nation’s creative capabilities and economic possibilities.
I suggest this has already happened. I realize that surfing the web is not programming, but the interest needs to be encouraged and the two are connected. Since 1970, when computers looked like the monster in War Games, I have worked with computers. I started with the IBM System/3 punch cards. One learned computer languages and DOS, before things got easy. What happened here? I have not met people even ten years younger than myself, much less my age, who are even basically computer savvy. I am beginning to understand why Ireland has had so many financial difficulties. Despite the world-wide downturns, the infrastructure of skilled labor must be in place. I do not see it here socially. The other problem is access. How can a capitol of a nation lack easy computer access and Wifi access for the public? If I had not spent several days in Dublin, I would have thought this phenomenon was merely a country matter, as a town I was in for some time only had the Internet in the library and in the McDonald's. But, it is not. It does not even seem to be a priority. Here and there are two more reports. Also, there is an upcoming conference advertised on this site. But, the answer is not to be found in the gaming industry, but the educational system. I realize as a teacher that the computer does not take the place of basic, old-fashioned skills such as reading, writing and arithmetic, but computer skills are necessary for competition in the business and academic worlds. The creativity of several generations may have been lost here.