Why teachers need to improve their ICT skills

As it’s almost Back to School time, parents will want their children’s digital skills to be up to scratch to keep up with their studies. But what about their teachers…and their ICT Skills?

A recent report in the UK highlighted the skills shortage that the IT sector was facing in the there. According to the report titled ‘Digital Skills for Tomorrow’s World‘:

“a failure to understand the opportunities within the digital workplace by parents, pupils and teachers, has, in part, led to this digital skills shortage.”

While there are plans underway to introduce a new computing curriculum in the UK in September 2014, the report warns “that teachers will need considerable help to prepare and retrain.”

This is a situation mirrored throughout the world as the rapid development in digital technologies has left many educators struggling to keep up.

According to the 2014 e-Skills for Jobs in Europe report, the EU’s shortage of qualified ICT professionals is expected to reach over half a million by 2015, and 900,000 by 2020. However while much of the current debate focuses on how best to educate students, little is mentioned about teacher training.

A report by the Irish government on ICT in Schools found that: “only 30% of primary teachers and 25% of post-primary teachers reported themselves to be comfortable users of ICT; fewer again felt they knew how to apply it effectively in their teaching”.

The barriers to ICT training for teachers

One contributor to the skills gap for teachers seems to be age. The Irish report found a big disparity in how much newly qualified and younger teachers are using ICT, compared to those over 35:

“92% of post-primary teachers under 35 reported using computers for preparation purposes, compared with 68% of teachers over forty-five.”

It’s not just age and lack of daily experience that puts teachers off improving their digital skills.

Resistance can be a result of a lack of a confidence or fear of using ICT for learning. Teachers often worry that their knowledge level does not match those of their ‘digitally native’ students.

This distracts from one of the main advantages of ICT skills for educators: being able to facilitate lessons more effectively using digital technologies.

However, some teachers are not convinced of the benefits it can bring to their teaching. The classroom has not been as quick to embrace technology’s advances as other workplaces have, as noted at the Digital Assembly in Dublin last year.

Ireland’s Digital Champion, Lord David Puttnam gave a keynote speech on technology and education, and offered the audience this analogy:

“If you took a brilliant surgeon from 1913 and placed him in an operating theatre today, there is nothing he could do; nothing he could contribute from his skill base. And yet if you take a teacher from 1913, and pop her into a classroom today, in many, many subjects she could teach what all of us would understand as a lesson”.

The solution to many of these issues is just as traditional as the problems: teacher training.

The benefits of teacher training

In order to become a confident user of ICT in the classroom, teachers need to take part in ongoing training.  Teachers should understand the benefits of digital literacy.

Training in ICT needs to be recognised as essential for teaching such skills, and as an enabler of other teaching and learning practices.

As the Infodev.org report put it:

“Teachers require extensive, on-going exposure to ICTs to be able to evaluate and select the most appropriate resources. However, the development of appropriate pedagogical practices is seen as more important than technical mastery of ICTs.”

‘One-off training’ is not sufficient, schools need to invest in and implement long term ongoing training and continuous professional development in order to keep up with rapidly evolving digital technologies.

Essential Digital Skills for 21st century teachers

The digital skills that teachers need have long moved on from just being able to use word processing and spreadsheets software. Digital skills that 21st Century teachers shouldhave include cloud storage and sharing solutions, social media, web editing, image editing, presentation software, and general multimedia.

The ‘flipped classroom’ model is being heralded by some as the future of 21st Century learning. Video plays a fundamental role in this.

Tim O’Reilly founder and CEO of technology publisher O’Reilly Media says that video as a learning medium will play an ever increasing role in the classroom.

“Videos are an inversion of the learning paradigm, from one in which the teacher lectures in class and then assigns homework to one where the ­student watches the lecture at home and then does what used to be homework in class, which makes so much more sense”.

Classroom education is increasingly moving away from lecturing at students to a more collaborative project based model and digital technology plays a fundamental role in this.

Despite the many benefits of using the Internet and other digital technologies there are also a number of dangers that pupils face. Cyberbullying, IT security and identity theft are all areas which teachers should have a good knowledge of in order to be able to help students deal with issues if they arise – and to encourage them to be responsible Web users.

The UK’s Computing in the National Curriculum Guide summarises it this way:

“The overall aim is that pupils become responsible and resilient users of technology, able to make confident and safe use of the web and of other internet-based services, and able to detect and deal with issues when they arise.”

Whether one is a pupil, a teacher, an employee or simply a citizen, we should all have the right – and the means – to be resilient users of technology.