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10. Education and training in information technology
In the report Computers in Ireland published in 1971, it was proposed that a Central Computing Council should be set up to develop a national IT strategy. Among the areas identified for attention by such a council was "training and education." The report elaborated on the need for training for management and computer specialists, to take account of changes in the needs of personnel, in information technology, and in our understanding of the potential of the computer.7 At that time, computer education had not been introduced in primary or secondary schools. Tertiary level was the first opportunity for students to receive an introduction to computing. It was recognized that the training of teachers would be a necessary initial step towards the introduction of computing in schools. This section reviews progress in the training and education sectors in information technology.
Tertiary-Level Education Institutions
By 1980 some form of computer-related courses had commenced or was due to be available at almost all tertiary-level institutions. Table 1.19 sets out the degree, diploma, certificate, and other courses run in universities and Regional Technical Colleges (RTCs).45
Table 1.19. Computer-related courses at tertiary level, 1980
|Institution||Course||Year of first graduates (if later than 1978)|
|1. Degree level:|
|University College Dublin||B.Sc. with Computer Science|
|University College Cork||B.Sc. with Computer Science|
|National Institute for Higher Education, Limerick||B.B.S. (Management Services)|
|National Institute for Higher Education, Limerick||Computer Systems||1983|
|National Institute for Higher Education, Dublin||1984|
|Trinity College Dublin||B.Sc. Computer Science||1983|
|2. Diploma level:|
|University College Dublin||One-year postgraduate||1980|
|RTC Waterford||One-year postgraduate||1980|
|NIHE, Limerick||One-year postgraduate||1980|
|RTC Athlone||One-year postgraduate||1980|
|University College Cork||One-year postgraduate||1980|
|Kevin Street||Three-year technician course||1980|
|3. Certificate level (two-year):|
|RTC Dundalk||Data processing||1979|
|RTC Galway||Data processing||1981|
|RTC Carlow||Data processing||1981|
|RTC Cork||Data processing||1980|
|RTC Sligo||Data processing||1981|
|RTC Letterkenny||Data processing||1982|
|RTC Tralee||Data processing||1983|
|RTC Waterford||Industrial/commercial computing||1982|
|NIHE, Limerick||Data processing||1980|
|College of Commerce, Rathmines||Programming||1980|
|4. Certificate level (one-year):|
|RTC Waterford||Micro-computer processing|
|RTC Waterford||Computer programming|
|RTC Dundalk||Computer programming|
|RTC Galway||Computer programming|
|RTC Carlow||Computer applications||1980|
|AnCO||Computer programming courses|
|6. Degree level:|
|Trinity College Dublin||B.Sc. Computer Science|
|7. Diploma level:|
|Trinity College Dublin||Advanced computer programming||1980|
|Trinity College Dublin||Systems analysis|
|University College Galway||One-year postgraduate, systems analysis||1980|
|8. Certificate level:|
|Bolton Street||Computer programming||1980|
Source: Ref. 45.
Note: The majority of the courses under heading 2 are one-year conversion courses introduced in 1979/80. Three of these are being continued in 1980/81. RTC courses under heading 4 are generally being phased out in favour of two-year courses leading to the National Certificate. Finally, some degree-level courses may be introduced at RTC level over the next few years; the first graduations will not be before the mid-1980s.
During the 1980s there was considerable pressure to produce more graduates and diploma and certificate holders in computer-related courses. The estimated increase in graduates was from 30 in 1978 (in UCD, UCC, and National Institute for Higher Education (NIHE), Limerick) to a projected 240 graduates in 1983. In 1980, the estimated number of diploma holders was 128. Within the Regional Technical Colleges there were only 68 certificate-level students in 1980, which was due to rise to 232 students for computer-related courses in 1983.
This information has been updated for tertiary-level educational institutions in 1988 and the detailed list of IT-related courses is set out in Appendix A. From this it is clear that computer science/studies, electronics, and IT-related engineering courses were well established in virtually all tertiary-level colleges. This means that school leavers can pursue IT studies from National Certificate level, through degree and diploma programmes to postgraduate research.
The ready availability of graduates and technicians was seen as a key factor in attracting prospective overseas investment in Ireland, particularly within the electronics industry. The MCC emphasized the need to build upon this advantage of a skilled labour pool.44
According to a survey in 1985, there were 734 engineers employed in the electronics industry. One of the major findings of the research was that, while projections for total employment of engineers had been inflated, actual recruitment, owing to high turnover, had exceeded expectations: "engineers in the industry are moving out of engineering posts into other positions [e.g. management] and/or leaving the country altogether."50 This suggests that Ireland may be experiencing an "over-supply" of engineers, who may need to emigrate and whose skills could be lost to the country that has borne the cost of their education.
Computer Education in Schools
According to the Department of Education, all secondary-level schools have some computer facilities. Since 1981 resources have been made available (about IR£2.1 million) to provide computers through an 80 per cent grant towards the costs of hardware and software. Schools have made up the remaining 20 per cent of costs. All vocational, community, and comprehensive schools availed themselves of the scheme, as did most other post-primary schools. At junior cycle within secondary schools, there is a syllabus for computer studies that can be taken as an optional subject. At senior cycle, computer studies can be taken as part of the mathematics syllabus. It is not yet possible to take an exam in computer studies. Instead, as an interim measure, schools may nominate pupils, whose performance in the subject has been satisfactory, for a statement from the Department of Education. This document states that they have satisfactorily undertaken the subject. Approximately 400, or half of post-primary schools, have availed themselves of this, and 8,000 statements have been issued.
According to the Department of Education, there are about 550,000 primary school pupils in some 3,300 schools for whom there are 22,000 teachers. The department estimates that there is a computer, or more than one computer, in 25 per cent of schools (about 800). Virtually none of these were bought through governmental funds, except in about 50 schools with special educational needs or in disadvantaged areas. Instead the computers were funded locally from money raised by individual schools.
Whilst there is no policy for IT in primary schools, a pilot project was implemented between 1982 and 1986 to investigate the best ways of using computers at primary level. The conclusion from the project was that information technology should be fully integrated into the curriculum, into the teaching of English, Irish, mathematics, and other subjects. It was found that computers were most successful when used in projects, for word-processing and simple database applications, and for teaching LOGO programming, mainly for mathematical applications. The most-favoured hardware in current use is the BBC Acorn, mainly because of the software available for educational purposes.
Three problems were identified by the Department of Education that will hamper IT diffusion in schools:
(1) the lack of a policy for IT in primary schools;
(2) the lack of hardware/software;
(3) the lack of guidance/advice available to teachers on hardware/software.
According to the International Labour Office, "the knowledge, skills and attitudes required for operating and maintaining new technology and participating in the innovation process will vary for different categories of workers. The underlying broad tendency is for firms and institutions to demand more advanced skills than hitherto. Low-skilled employment will decrease absolutely."51 Information technology has therefore placed new demands on both educational and training institutions in Ireland. "Computer literacy and familiarity with new technology will be indispensable social skills in the future."51 These needs are being addressed at tertiary level for students taking specific options (e.g. engineering, computer science, and some other courses). At secondary level, the rate of diffusion remains slow. Until computer studies becomes an essential part of the examined curriculum, resources are made available for teacher-training, and sufficient computer teaching time is allotted for all pupils to participate, computer literacy will not be achieved.
Training in Information Technology
Along with education, training must also change to meet new demands. "Innovative firms urgently need skilled workers who are able to operate and maintain the new equipment."51 The need for creativity and flexibility is also emphasized.
Table 1.20. Registered apprentice population by trade, trade group, and year of apprenticeship, 31 December 1986
|Trade and trade group||Year of apprenticeship||Total registered|
|Heavy vehicle mechanic||40||57||50||34||181|
|Light vehicle body repair||13||21||44||20||98|
|Sheet metal worker||41||42||53||45||181|
|Construction plant fitter||65||60||58||39||222|
Source: AnCO, Apprenticeship Statistics 1976-86, Dublin, AnCO: 1987.
Apprenticeship is the system of skill and knowledge development where a long-term training (three to four years) is completed in an industrial/ commercial company and combined with compulsory classroom instruction. In recent years, apprenticeship has been maintained, and even increased, in some countries such as Germany and Switzerland. This contrasts with experience in the United Kingdom and Ireland.
Overall, there were 15,599 registered apprentices in 1976 in Ireland. By 1986 the level was closer to 13,000, down from a peak of 21,498 apprentices in 1980. If apprenticeship courses are examined it is difficult to identify any IT-related trades for apprenticeship (table 1.20). All conform to the "traditional" craft skills within the furniture, printing, electrical, motor, engineering, and construction industries.
Table 1.21. Numbers trained on FAS electronics-related courses, 1983-1986
|Training Centres Division|
|Introduction to Electronics||65||45||26||57|
|External Training Division|
|PCB Design and Layout||21|
|Advanced Manufacturing Technology||18||22|
|Computer Hardware Engineering||23|
|Component Research Technician||20||46|
|Microprocessor System Design||21||78|
|Computerized POS Technician||23|
Source: Unpublished FAS data, 1988.
Responsibility for training in Ireland lies with Foras Aisleanna Saothair (FAS), the Training and Employment Authority. In 1988, FAS provided training programmes for 48,000 people. Within the FAS-run training centres, eight computer-related training courses were run in 1987. The data for throughput on these courses are contained in table 1.21.
According to these data, almost 1,000 people received IT-related training in 1986 within FAS centres, and an additional 348 underwent training in other institutions. This means that IT-trained people represented 3.2 per cent of persons trained in 1985 (the last year for which comparable data are available). Despite the fact that female trainees comprised almost half of all trainees on IT training centre courses, they were concentrated in the electronic assembly courses. In 1983, female trainees comprised 78 per cent of those taking electronic assembly, although this fell to 60 per cent in 1986. Women were poorly represented on non-assembly type electronics courses, with the exception of "Introduction to Electronics" in 1986. This pattern is further accentuated in external training IT courses. In 1985, female trainees comprised less than 4 per cent of the total. By 1987 this had risen to 17 per cent. However, if individual courses are examined, it is clear that in most years there were fewer than 10 women on any individual IT course.
Innovative Developments in IT Education and Training
The important role of education and training initiatives in promoting IT and other kinds of innovation is clearly recognized. Closer links must be developed between education/training and industry if technology transfer and economic development are to take place. This subsection examines some of the initiatives that have occurred in the education and training sectors in Ireland.
Tertiary-Level Education and Industry Linkages
According to the Manpower Consultative Committee, Irish industry is in a phase of transition, from its traditional (post-1960s) reliance on mobile foreign investment to the need to look to new forms and sources of investment to achieve continuing growth. The tertiary-level education sector could assist industry in making this transition in two ways, through education and training activities and through research and development (R&D).44 A summary of the current forms of cooperation between industry and tertiary-level institutions is contained in tables 1.22 and 1.23. Government support has also been allocated to infrastructural developments within specific universities.
In Trinity College, Dublin, a research and consultancy unit was established as the Software Engineering Laboratory to promote consultancy services to industry. The areas covered include database, text compression algorithms, computer networks, and image processing. Trinity College was also the first university to introduce the "campus-based company" to Ireland in the Environmental Resources Analysis Company, which provides an international consultancy service in the field of remote sensing.
At NIHE, Limerick, the Plassey Technological Park was located to provide a national technological focus, which has helped to attract international IT investment and R&D activities to the Mid-West Region. There are currently over 50 organizations within the Park, ranging from financial institutions and software companies to an Innovation Centre, National Microelectronics Application Centre, and smaller IT-related industrial companies.
A National Microelectronics Research Centre has been established at Cork University. It is involved in contract research for the European Space Agency and European Community, as well as in partnership with firms such as General Electric, Honeywell, Philips, and Siemens. Among the specialist fields of interest are silicon IC design and fabrication, gallium arsenide technology, computer-aided design, and solar energy research.
In a report by the Confederation of Irish Industry,26 three themes were identified for introducing technological innovation into Irish industry:
Table 1.22. Types of formal cooperation taking place in the universities, the NIHEs, and colleges of technology
|Bolton St||Maynooth||NIHE Dublin||NIHE Limerick||TCD||UCC||UCD||UCG|
|Representation of industry/commerce on governing body||x||x||x||x||x|
|Representation of industry/commerce on other formal structures||x||x||x||x||x||x||x|
|Industrial liaison offices||x||x||x||x||x|
|Careers and appointments offices||x||x||x||x||x||x|
|R&D, other research||x||x||x||x||x||x||x|
|Equipment & facilities||x||x||x||x||x||x|
|Job placement schemes||x||x||x|
|Outside part-time lecturers||x|
|Sharing of equipment||x||x||x||x||x|
|Drafting of curricula||x||x||x||x||x|
Source: Manpower Consultative Committee, Review of Links between Industry and Third-Level Education, Dublin: MCC, January 1985.
Table 1.23. Types of cooperation taking place in the Regional Technical Colleges
|Representation of industry/commerce||x||x||x||x||x||x||x||x||x|
|on board of management|
|Representation of industry/commerce||x||x||x||x|
|on other formal structures|
|Industrial liaison offices||x|
|Careers and appointments offices||x|
|R&D, other research||x||x||x||x||x|
|Equipment & facilities||x||x||x|
|Job placement schemes||x||x||x||x||x||x||x||x||x|
|Outside part-time lecturers||x||x||x||x||x|
|Sharing of equipment||x||x||x||x|
|Drafting of curricula||x||x||x||x||x||x|
Source: Manpower Consultative Committee, Review of Links between Industry and Third-Level Education, Dublin: MCC, January 1985.
(1) The government must generate a climate conducive to research and innovation through the provision of proper funding and opportunity.
(2) There must be a parallel willingness by academics to breach institutional and attitudinal barriers to cooperation and by industry to invest in R&D, particularly in information technology.
(3) Well-trained and motivated manpower should be encouraged to undertake research into the future needs of industry.
Some of these requirements are being addressed but, in the present climate of economic cut-backs, the process may be held up and conducted in a piecemeal manner.
Innovative IT Training Initiatives
A limited number of IT-related training initiatives have been taken by FAS. According to a report prepared for the European Centre for the Development of Vocational Training (CEDEFOP), two courses were initiated at the Innovation Centre and Microelectronics Application Centre at Plassey Limerick.
The training activities at the Innovation Centre commenced in 1980 and concentrated on developing new products by adapting technological advances to the industrial conditions of Ireland's Mid-West Region. The centre's team of experts assist an entrepreneur through the various steps of product development from generating and screening ideas through market research, product design prototype development, product engineering, and securing finance to market launch.52
The second IT-related innovative course is within the Microelectronics Centre and is designed to introduce micro-electronic technology to new products and processes.52
Since the 1970s there has been a notable swing away from the early dependence on industrial policy and financial incentives to overseas investors to promote IT innovation and development within Ireland. Increasingly the emphasis is on skill development to promote the indigenous use and innovative development of IT. Hence there is the acknowledged need to utilize the education and training resources of the universities, Regional Technical Colleges, and training institutions. Programmes such as the recent EOLAS innovation support programmes (Appendix B) emphasize the role of linking colleges and industry into partnerships - encouraging graduate employment in industry, R&D in colleges, and EC-wide cooperative research for European industry.
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