Irish Govt recognises cloud computing opportunity, minister says

18 Apr 2011

Meath VEC has become the first educational body in Ireland to embrace cloud computing with its entire network of schools and education centres connected as a single online resource. Training and Skills Minister Ciarán Cannon TD says the State is examining the cloud opportunity.

It is understood that following a successful pilot, Wicklow VEC will also deploy a cloud computing infrastructure.

Working with Microsoft, the entire network of schools across Meath now has a single point for all technology resources and all teachers have access to the same teaching materials and can access virtual classrooms and share resources.

Cannon announced Wicklow VEC will now work with Microsoft to roll out cloud computing to its 12 schools based on the successful Meath VEC model.

The VEC has reduced its IT running costs by 30pc over the past 18 months. Teachers have access to the latest tools which allow them to teach more effectively while students have access to resources that otherwise might not be available to them.

The benefits now available to Meath VEC include distance learning, where schools in the network can access virtual classes for their students. For example, Applied Maths for the Leaving Certificate in September 2011 will be delivered by a teacher based in Dunshaughlin but students in all nine schools will be able to attend classes by video link.

This year, for the first time, additional ‘Grinds’ will be available to some Leaving Certificate students on a trial basis by remote video link. Students that have tablet PCs will have templates for maths lessons and once a teacher uploads a lesson onto the system, students can instantly access it on their laptops.

“This Government recognises the opportunity provided by cloud computing for the education sector,” said Cannon.

“Not only does it facilitate access to resources that students might not otherwise enjoy, it reduces costs and enhances efficiencies.

At a time when we are seeking to reduce expenditure in the public sector, cloud computing offers enhanced services to users while reducing spend. Meath VEC and Microsoft are to be commended for their innovation and for producing a workable model that can be rolled out across the VEC network nationally,” Cannon said.

Opportunities for learning

“With the cloud services now in place here, Co Meath opportunities for learning to all students and personalised learning for each student can now be considered a realistic goal,” Seamus Ryan, education officer, Meath VEC, explained.

“We hope to greatly increase the standards that every student can achieve in maths and science with this approach over the next couple of years. The support of Microsoft on the technical issues and their worldwide school improvement programmes has made it possible to put the ICT services in place and helped us envision the future for learning in Meath VEC.”

Microsoft Ireland managing director Paul Rellis pointed to the Goodbody Economic Report published in January, which identified cloud computing as the ideal solution to help overcome many of the challenges faced by the educational sector and which can help deliver the school system required in a global 21st-century economy.

“Currently, schools in Ireland have different levels of access to technology based on their own resources. Cloud computing, as demonstrated by the centralised Meath VEC model, democratises access to information and can level the playing field,” Rellis said.

John Kennedy is a journalist who served as editor of Silicon Republic for 17 years