EU must approve plans to improve broadband access for primary schools

Children at hundreds of rural primary schools will only be able to access planned new technology if the EU approves government plans to improve broadband connectivity.

The aim of the Government’s new digital schools strategy is to ensure children and teachers can take advantage of the rapidly changing equipment and programmes for all subjects, with input being sought from schools, parents, industry, and academics.

While the provision of 100 megabytes-per–second broadband to all 730 second-level schools should be completed by next summer, a similar investment is not so easy at primary level.

Communications Minister Pat Rabbitte said the approval of the EU is required before the Government can roll out investment to improve broadband connectivity in rural areas, where he said connectivity is not acceptable.

“At the moment we’re engaged in a detailed mapping exercise to comply with European state aid rules because we can’t intervene as a state unless it’s approved in Brussels,” Mr Rabbitte said.

“That mapping exercise is coming to an end at the moment, and will be submitted to the EU for approval.

“That, essentially, will provide the connectivity that is necessary to implement however the Department of Education decides to go with regard to digital strategy for primary schools.”

The Irish National Teachers’ Organisation said unreliable broadband is a key barrier to the everyday use of ICT in primary classrooms, along with the cost of maintaining and upgrading equipment.

The Oireachtas education committee heard from the Association of Secondary Teachers Ireland last week that even with high-speed broadband, teaching with online tools is hampered by lack of technical support when problems arise.

Education Minister Ruairi Quinn said the digital strategy will make provision for back-up for schools, and the consultation he launched yesterday will try to establish the most efficient ways of doing so.

He said resources and funding will be a factor, but not as critical as having teachers trained in how to use technology for learning.

“The quality of trained teachers is on a scale much higher than the norm [internationally], plus there is fantastic parental engagement, way above the norm in most societies,” he said.

The consultation launched yesterday will also take into account the financial challenges faced by families and schools, how the Department of Education can help schools to choose and install equipment, and how teachers can be helped to share good practice.

* Submissions on the digital strategy for schools can be made up to Jan 31, 2014, on the Department of Education website www.education.ie


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