Funding boost for Liberties Learning Initiative

1 Apr 2004

The Liberties Learning Initiative, the inner-city based education and training initiative based in the Digital Hub, is to receive renewed funding from its main corporate sponsor, Diageo Ireland, has learned.

Diageo Ireland, whose headquarters are in St James’s Gate, has been a leading supporter of the project since it began 18 months ago to the extent that the learning programme is now officially known as the Diageo Liberties Learning Initiative. The drinks company, which traditionally draws much of its workforce from the Liberties, provided funding of €1.3m during the first phase of the initiative and is now believed to be committing a further €1.3m for the 2004-2005 period.

As well as Diageo’s sponsorship, the Liberties Learning Initiative also receives funding from the Department of Education & Science through the National Centre for Technology in Education, which funds professional development courses for teachers. It also supplies a seconded teacher to the project.

The thrust of the Liberties Learning Initiative is digital literacy – providing the local community with the opportunities to acquire the skills needed to live in a digital age and to work in the digital media industry, which will be located on their doorstep. It comprises four elements: school, community, enterprise learning and showcasing.

One of the early schools-related projects to get underway was Digital Storytelling, which aims to build on the Liberties’ tradition of storytelling using digital audiovisual skills and production processes.

In all, over 210 students are participating in the project using technologies such as digital cameras, mini-disc recorders and laptops. The project will result in their stories being published on CD, DVD, the web and in print as well as a video documentary on the whole process.

The Digital Storytelling project has involved intensive teacher training over the past number of months in digital media skills. Twenty-five teachers are participating in the programme.

Another well-received project, ‘Empowering Minds’, uses lego to teach primary children a range of useful skills by drawing upon various subjects within the school curriculum including mathematics, art, English and history.

The Digital Hub catchment area consists of 16 primary and secondary schools, from St James Hospital to Synge St. All of them recently were kitted out with broadband, thanks to a €250,000 project funded by Smart Telecom. The system uses 34Mb point-to-multipoint wireless technology to deliver broadband internet from a transmitter on top of the Guinness Storehouse (the tallest building locally) to receivers positioned on the roof of each school. The service delivers broadband at speeds of 4.5mb, about ten times faster than standard 512mb DSL. In addition, in the first deployment of its kind in Ireland, Smart has installed Powerline Conversion Technology which uses the schools’ own electrical wiring as the conduit for broadband. Schools are also equipped with special devices that are used to connect laptops to the mains.

According to Paul Lynch, business sales manager at Smart Telecom, the system is ideal for older buildings with thick walls and little modern cabling. “If you wanted to do wireless LAN you’re talking about having equipment in every classroom because the signal won’t translate between rooms so it gets prohibitively expensive. Similarly with a LAN based on Cat 5 cabling.”

John Hurley, head of learning initiatives at the Digital Hub added: “From an education point of view we’re trying to get broadband out of the computer room into the classroom. It’s there that it will be much more effective.”

By Brian Skelly