16 July, 2021 – Minister Foley welcomes EU/NRRP Funding of €63.5 million for School Broadband and Digital Infrastructure for Schools to support Students at risk of educational disadvantage through lack of access to digital infrastructure

Minister for Education Norma Foley TD, today (Friday 16 July), welcomed the announcement made by Ursula Von Der Leyen, President of the EU Commission, confirming inclusion of the Department of Education’s proposal for funding under Ireland’s National Recovery and Resilience Plan (NRRP).

The funding sanctioned the under EU/NRRP facility for the two projects in the education sector is for an overall investment of €63.5m.

The NRRP sets out a range of projects funded under the Next Generation EU (NGEU) fund, a European Union recovery package to support member states following the COVID-19 pandemic. Next Generation EU is an ambitious and common recovery package which will complement and support each country’s own national response to the crisis.

The Department will now implement the two projects sanctioned under Ireland’s NRRP.

It is the intention of the Department to provide all primary schools with high speed broadband connectivity by end 2022/early 2023. The first project will supplement delivery of high speed broadband alongside delivery under the National Broadband Plan, and commercial provision through the Schools Broadband Programme.

The aim of the second project is to provide schools with funding to support their learners who are most at risk of educational disadvantage through lack of access to appropriate digital infrastructure, thereby further addressing the digital divide.

Minister Foley said: “This is very welcome news. I am very pleased that two priority projects for the education system have been supported at national and EU level and are included as part of the NRRP approval from the EU Commission.

“We are building now on the great progress and huge efforts made in the use of digital technologies in teaching and learning during the pandemic and the NRRP projects will enable that progression. It is so important that schools have access to high speed broadband and that we can ensure  equal access to devices and digital infrastructure, so we can support all our students to fulfil their potential.

“In Ireland and across Europe, we know that the pandemic has disproportionately impacted those at risk of educational disadvantage. We will now work to allocate this funding to schools through a scheme targeted to support these children and young people.

“The enhanced investment to be provided under the NRRP will advance greatly the effort to ensure that technology and infrastructure is in place to support teaching and learning in the classroom across all schools and help eliminate any potential for a digital divide.”

Notes for Editors

The Department of Education included two projects under Ireland’s NRRP application for EU funding.

Project A will assist in bringing all primary schools in the country to high speed broadband connectivity by end 2022/early 2023. Through the Schools Broadband programme, over 1,000 primary schools are currently on connectivity of 100 Mbp/s or greater, and by the end of 2021 this number will have increased to some 1,600. The balance will be upgraded throughout 2022. This is being delivered through the implementation of the National Broadband Plan Intervention area, commercial provision and this project funded under the NRRP.

The project is being overseen by a Steering Group chaired by the Department of Education and comprises representatives from the Department of Environment, Climate and Communications, HEAnet (providers of the Schools Network), and the Professional Development Service for Teachers – Technology in Education. It is expected that installation of services for the first lot of schools under this project will commence later this year.

Project B will provide €50m, through a once-off funding scheme to schools, and will target those learners most at risk of educational disadvantage: by virtue of their socio-economic status; Traveller students, students currently residing in direct provision or those in remote rural areas. While a gap already exists in terms of their educational outcomes and retention to Leaving Certificate, studies have also shown that outcomes for these students have been disproportionately impacted by Covid-19.

Funding will issue directly to schools as they are best placed to identify and address inequalities to ensure those learners most at risk are supported and have access to the appropriate digital technologies required to give them every opportunity to fulfil their potential. Details for the scheme are in development and will be informed by available data and learning from the extensive research in relation to the impact of Covid-19 for these learners.