Minister for Education and Skills Joe McHugh T.D. today welcomed the Government’s decision to appoint a preferred bidder to the National Broadband Plan procurement process.Minister McHugh said: “I am delighted with today’s Government decision, which will enhance the quality of broadband provision in some 700 of our primary schools.
“High quality broadband provision is essential to a modern learning environment. This plan will enable us to provide all of our schools with equal access to learning materials and training resources, enabling them to give our children the best possible learning experiences.
“An important feature of the proposal is that it aims to deploy a temporary point to point wireless network to serve nearly 300 Broadband Connection Points, within the first year of deployment. It is anticipated that there will be a number of these hubs in every county helping to provide vital high-speed internet for people living in rural area, including 51 schools. The inclusion of schools in this is very welcome and will support the implementation of the Digital Strategy for Schools.
“Under the Schools Broadband Programme, funded and managed by the Department of Education and Skills, there is a significant level of broadband usage among schools, with all post-primary schools provided with 100 Mbp services. However, there are connectivity issues for some rural primary schools, which creates inequalities in the services that can currently be provided for these schools.
“The lack of access to high speed broadband can impact negatively on these schools and limit their access to a range of resources that will enhance and improve the use of digital technology in education. The high speed broadband that will be available as a result of this Government decision is essential to build the capacity of schools to ensure that children and young people are gaining appropriate skills for the 21st century.”
The decision will make high speed broadband available to schools across Ireland
The benefits this will bring include: facilitating improved collaboration/engagement across the school sector; open up capacity for teachers to embed digital technologies in the learning environment in their schools; facilitate collaboration with colleagues in other schools and improve networking across schools.
Minister McHugh said: “This investment will bring significant opportunities to rural areas. It will enhance schools’ capacity to get the full benefit out of online learning resources.
“There will be more potential for flexible and remote working, education opportunities for all through online platforms and increased employment opportunities in rural areas.
“The extension of broadband services under the National Broadband Plan across the country will significantly decrease the urban/rural digital divide and provide equal opportunity irrespective of geographical location. It is indicated that outside of the Intervention Area industry will provide high speed connectivity to all premises including schools. In that context, I would urge continued prioritisation of primary schools during implementation to ensure no digital divide emerges between those schools in the intervention area and those served by industry.”
The National Broadband scheme
Some of the benefits, not readily available to primary schools in poor quality broadband areas include:
- Access to cloud services with the potential to enhance linkages between home and school and collaborative practice with schools, teachers and pupils to enhance teaching, learning and assessment resources and activities.
- Access to online Resources on the Department’s Education Portal “Scoilnet” which contains in excess of 19,000 curriculum tagged educational resources, many of which are video based difficult to access with poor quality broadband.
- Access to blended learning approach to CPD which is facilitated through the delivery of Webinars, online courses and interactive content.
- The capacity for schools to carry out video conferences/engage in collaborative learning will be greatly enhanced through the provision of high speed broadband.
Background Information Note
Under the Schools Broadband Programme, funded and managed by the Department of Educations and Skills, with backbone services provided by HEAnet and 24 helpdesk support by the PDST Technology, all recognised primary and post-primary schools are provided with broadband connectivity. Funding the programme is some €14m annually. For the post-primary element of the programme, 100 Mbp/s + symmetrical services are provided to all post-primary schools in the country, and some 58 special schools. Statistics show from monitoring the Post-Primary system indicate a significant level of usage of broadband among those schools.
The Primary Programme is based on available industry provision, and the best quality connectivity to all schools in line with the technical solutions available in the market and financial constraints, is provided. Currently broadband capacity varies due to geographical location and local infrastructure, and thus impact on the service that can be provided.
Under the current primary schools programme the Department continually reviews the availability of services and upgrades schools where the opportunity arises. Some 1,400 primary schools are currently on download speeds of 30Mbps or greater (the baseline download speed required under the current National Broadband Plan) – with many on speeds greatly in excess of that. This is a significant improvement over recent years, given that less than 100 primary schools were on those speeds in 2012. Further schools are likely to be upgraded to those speeds in 2019 and beyond, through EIR's 300K Rural Deployment commitment.
The need to improve broadband connectivity to primary schools is recognised in the Digital Strategy for Schools 2015-2020, and access to high speed broadband is one of the indicators identified in the Digital Strategy Action Plan. The Department has been working with the Department of Communications, Climate Action and Environment, in the context of the current National Broadband Plan and the Intervention Strategy, and proposed industry provision to prioritise the requirements of primary schools, and will continue to do so.