Education Minister Noel Dempsey TD is understood to be finalising details of a four-year strategy for the integration of ICT into the country’s 4,100 primary and secondary schools.
Although no date has been set for the launch, a spokesperson for the Department of Education said the department expected to publish details of the strategy “very, very shortly”.
The strategy will succeed the Government’s previous technology in schools programme, which expired at the end of last year.
Like its predecessor, the new strategy is expected to cover a wide range of issues from the provision of equipment to the integration of ICT within teaching.
The document will also provide details of the planned expenditure on ICT in schools over the next four years. The spokesperson would not confirm what the spending range would be but, according to sources, the strategy will earmark €120m – €150m for the provision of equipment – hardware, software and associated technology – in schools.
Were it to go ahead, this investment would represent a major expansion in Government spending in the area. A total of €109m was allocated in the preceding 2001 – 2003 strategy – €78.7m for capital investment, the remainder for teacher training – but this figure was revised downwards following a funding cut in the December 2002 Budget. The Schools IT 2000 programme, the first major national initiative aimed at upgrading ICT systems in Irish primary and second schools, ran between 1997 and 2000 and was given a budget of €50m.
The cumulative investment has resulted in significantly more computers in schools. Since 2002, the pupil to computer ratio has from 18:1 to 11:1 in secondary schools and from 12:1 to 9:1 at primary level, according to the National Centre for Technology in Education. However, the Republic still compares unfavourably with other OECD countries in terms of its deployment of computers in the classroom.
Spurred on by the dismal prospect of Ireland falling further behind other developed nations, there are signs that technology in education is at last becoming a priority area for Government spending. Only last month, the Government announced an €18m public private partnership programme to bring broadband to every primary and secondary school in the country by the end of 2005.
By Brian Skelly