Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources, Dermot Ahern TD, has confirmed that studies on broadband connectivity to all schools, an implementation plan and a draft tender document on e-eduation are under way and will be completed by mid-2003.
Speaking in the Dáil last night, Ahern said these studies will form the basis of “an approach to market in light of available funding”.
It is also understood that the communications department is considering a number of methods of providing the resources for connectivity to schools. One innovative possibility that has been mooted is a flexible public service levy designed to provide funds required for investment in educational connectivity as well as a number of other areas of importance.
Datanet International, an Irish telecommunications consultant, is currently exploring criteria for rolling out broadband connectivity to schools on a national level and will assess the potential and costs of such a project prior to seeking the finance to make it happen.
Around 80pc of secondary schools currently use ISDN, 7pc have leased lines and the rest make do with internet access over 56Kbps dial-up modems. The initiative is being looked at alongside other projects such as the 19-town broadband rollout rather than in isolation, but it addresses very specific issues for education.
The minister was answering questions on whether he was concerned that students and schools here may be seriously disadvantaged in regard to e-education by comparison with their counterparts in Northern Ireland.
As reported by siliconrepublic.com last month, the Republic’s education system has fallen 10 years behind the North in the IT stakes. The Department of Education in Northern Ireland signed a managed service contract with Hewlett-Packard worth £70m sterling last month. Part of a 10-year plan, it will enable the linking of all individual school networks into a data centre, enhancing the North’s credentials as a centre of excellence for the integration of information and communications technology in schools.
Broadband is one technology component, already in place in NI schools, that has the potential to reinvent the education sector with its promise of virtual and collaborative learning.
By Lisa Deeney