The chances of giving all primary schools the same high-speed broadband that is now available at secondary level are slim but the move remains a priority, the Department of Education has said.
The Government will soon publish a digital schools strategy aimed at making better use of technology in classrooms, with an emphasis on training for teachers and principals, as well as integrating ICT into the curriculum.
At an Oireachtas education committee hearing, department officials said that while providing the 100 Mbps (megabits per second) broadband now in secondary schools is a priority at primary level, it can not be guaranteed.
“The department is aware that there are different levels of broadband out there for schools, we have a range from 1 to 100 [Mbps] in primary schools,” said Karen Murtagh, assistant principal officer in the ICT policy unit.
She said the Department of Education will collaborate under the strategy with the Department of Communications, Energy, and Natural Resources in relation to putting a scheme in place similar to the 100Mbps in post-primary schools. However, it needs to reflect the range of different schools and their varying needs, from one-teacher or two-teacher schools up to those with a few hundred students.
“So we need to look at that and to see if that’s achievable with the two departments. But it’s a priority under the new digital strategy for schools,” she said.
Robert O’Leary, principal of Sacred Heart Senior National School in Tallaght, said inadequate broadband was not just an issue for rural schools, He said he can not send an email from his office while students are using electronic devices in class.
“I have to wait until later in the day when numeracy and literacy classes are finished,” he said.
While his 12Mbps broadband is the speed available to the average primary school, Ms Murtagh said it was the fastest available in his area when contracts were last negotiated.
The department hopes to offer improved broadband speeds to most primary schools as a result of a tendering process to begin soon. She said new technologies should also mean no primary schools will rely on very slow satellite connections from the end of this school year.
Under the strategy, it is expected that a system of multi-annual funding over five years will be set out, allowing schools to undertake the planning they say is impossible in current circumstances. The last major investment in technology equipment was the €46m given over five years ago to put a teaching computer and digital projector in every primary classroom in the country.
Irish Primary Principals’ Network representative Pairic Clerkin, from St Patrick’s National School in Diswellstown, Dublin 15, said schools need a proper system of technical support for ICT. Many depend on donations by local business of used computers but, he said, such equipment can need maintenance at least once a week.
The department said a centralised national support system is not feasible, but Irish National Teachers’ Organisation assistant general secretary Peter Mullan suggested a role for the 16 Education and Training Boards to help schools in their areas.
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