Laying the foundations for the schools of tomorrow

2 Feb 2011

As the first 100Mbps digital schools were unveiled, former communications minister, Eamon Ryan TD, said 600 more schools are due to get essential broadband capacity.

In a room at St Colmcille’s Community School in Dublin, education officials, journalists and students watched in awe at how a teacher in one deft move brought everyone’s imaginations on a tour of the Louvre in Paris. On Tory Island off the coast of Donegal, a deaf child can communicate in sign language via video conference with other students and teachers across Ireland.

These are glimpses of the potential high-speed broadband can deliver to Irish schools, laying an important foundation for a future where Irish kids can potentially talk Shakespeare with Oxford dons or converse in Mandarin Chinese with students across the world.

In October, the first 100Mbps schools went live with 100Mbps broadband and Ryan confirmed 300 more schools will get the service in 2011 and a further 300 will get it in 2012. The subsequent Budget confirmed €44m will be made available for the next 300 schools in 2011 and a new Rural Broadband Scheme will complement the €223m National Broadband Scheme.

“We are changing the day-today classroom experience,” said Ryan on the unveiling of the first 78 schools. “The ‘chalk and talk’ models won’t work anymore. Learning needs to be multi-sensory and interactive, allowing students to learn in schools in the same way they socialise and learn at home. I believe the provision of 100Mbps broadband will transform education in Ireland.”

HEAnet will maintain the network on behalf of the Department of Communications. The NCTE will integrate the networks into the schools and will provide frontline support.

Telecoms firms Eircom, AirSpeed Telecom, Digiweb, E-net, Imagine, BT, Complete Telecom and Telindus are responsible for the delivery of the new networks. Dell Ireland provided the laptop equipment.

Key members of the ICT in education community believe a future Government needs to recognise the 4,000 schools in Ireland that need to have the 21st-century learning experience.

The CTO of HEAnet Ronan Byrne said the 100Mbps network has the benefit of connecting to a high-speed backbone network that is also connected to universities and colleges nationwide. “The key message here is we are already leveraging investments that have been made in the education network.”

Byrne said HEAnet is able to centrally manage the network to ensure not only good uptime but also ensure students access only appropriate material.

HEAnet and other telecoms and technology providers, Byrne added, are awaiting the ‘go ahead’ for the next 300 schools.

Boland Ryan O'Kelly

John Boland, CEO, HEAnet (left to right); former communications minister, Eamon Ryan TD; and Liam O’Kelly, managing director, AirSpeed Telecom

Martina Harford, chief executive of The Educational Company of Ireland (Edco), said 100Mbps broadband service will enhance the use of ICT in classrooms.

“This is about giving the students 21st-century skills and while a digital curriculum is important you can never replace a good teacher in the classroom. If we are serious about delivering top quality education, it is vital that we do it with the right quality of broadband.”

Graham Byrne of educational software and hardware firm Promethean said broadband is the foundation upon which Ireland will build out the rest of its ICT infrastructure for schools.

“The provision of content and the quality of that content – it all rests on the availability of quality broadband at the appropriate speeds.”

Greg Tierney of educational technology company Steljes agrees: “If we think about where we want to go in the future, a lot of people talk about cloud, for example, having the ability to deliver even a portal into schools with the ability to search or assign homework, all requires bandwidth.”

The first 100Mbps schools

  • 300 more schools in 2011 and a further 300 in 2012 will be equipped with 100Mbps broadband. As of October 2010, 78 schools had gone live with 100Mbps broadband.
  • Ireland is one of the first countries in the world to deliver such a broadband programme on a national level, former communications minister Eamon Ryan has said.
  • Enhanced ICT facilities, including more than 1,500 wireless digital projectors and 2,000 laptops, have been distributed to schools.


AirSpeed Telecom, which specialises in delivering high-bandwidth data signals over wireless networks, provided broadband to 31 of the 78 schools in areas where wireless was the only option.

“Ireland needs faster broadband and it can be argued that education needs it as much, if not more than, any other sector,” said Liam O’Kelly, managing director of AirSpeed Telecom.

O’Kelly said that like the other providers engaged in the first 78 schools, he is awaiting the ‘go ahead’ to serve the next 300 schools.

Máire Clár Nic Mhathuna, a teacher at Coláiste Phobail Cholmcille, Tory Island, said before AirSpeed Telecom installed broadband as part of the 100Mbps project, the school had a poor dial-up service.

“Now we have very good access to many resources that were impossible before. In the past we couldn’t access remote learning courses as the service was not good enough. We now are using the internet in most classes and teachers and students are using the internet for training purposes,” she said.

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