Concern over major ICT spending cuts in Irish schools

16 Dec 2010

Key figures in Ireland’s ICT sector have expressed concern over major cuts in State ICT spending in the recent Budget – down from €63m in 2010 to €1.5m projected for 2011.

According to the Department of Education’s Estimates for Education and Skills Vote, the capital allocation for 2011 for schools’ ICT equipment will be reduced from €63m in 2010 to €1.5m in 2011.

The €63m spent last year included €20m that was spent under the planned three-year €150m Smart Schools = Smart Economy strategy.

A spokesman for the Department of Education and Science confirmed the capital allocation for 2011 for Schools ICT is “significantly lower” than the €63m.

“This reflects the very significant capital investment in schools ICT in 2009 and 2010 as part of the ‘Smart Schools’ programme.

“A total of €92m in ICT grants has been issued to schools in the past 12 months under this programme.

“The focus in 2011 will be on leveraging this significant investment to ensure further integration of ICT into teaching and learning.”

The aim of the Smart Schools = Smart Economy strategy was to equip every teacher in Ireland with a laptop, as well as every classroom with a digital projector.

Despite the cuts to ICT spending in the Department of Education, the plan to equip a further 300 schools with 100Mbps broadband will go ahead in 2011 as part of a €44m investment, according to the Department of Communications.

Last year, 78 schools were provided with 100Mbps broadband under a €13m investment plan.

Education is a major pillar of smart economy

Proponents of ICT in Irish schools say that the cuts are taking place at a time when we should be focusing on better education for our young to give them a better chance in the jobs market.

The cuts come as PISA (Programme for International Student Assessment), the OECD group responsible for measuring maths and literacy performance by students worldwide, found Ireland significantly below the OECD average for maths, causing alarm among industry groups.

Comparing countries’ and economies’ performances, Ireland achieved a PISA score of 487, below the OECD average of 496 and comparing poorly with economies like China-Shanghai (600), Korea (546) and Finland (541).

Insufficient ICT resources in Irish schools were blamed by PISA for the poor performance, proof if anything that the State must be stepping up its investment in ICT in schools not reducing it.

Without exposure, critical ICT equipment and 21st-century learning skills, Irish school leavers will be at a critical disadvantage in the international jobs market.

“At a time when ICT resources are most needed, the Government seems to be stepping back from its commitment,” said Graham Byrne, head of Promethean’s Ireland and Scotland divisions.

Byrne described the cuts as an enormous retrograde step. “We’ve just taken on a massive debt which our next generation is going to have to carry for us.

“By cutting back on ICT spending now we are effectively removing the tools these kids will need to get us out of this economic situation,” Byrne said.

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