Classrooms to get laptop each under new scheme


EVERY CLASSROOM in the country is to get a teaching laptop, software and a digital projector over the next three years as part of a new €150 million investment in “smart schools”.

Taoiseach Brian Cowen outlined details of the new initiative on information and computer technologies (ICT) for schools yesterday. Speaking at the launch, Minister for Education Batt O’Keeffe acknowledged Ireland was playing “catch-up’’ on technology for schools after years of under investment.

He expressed confidence the new €150 million, three-year package would be accompanied by the roll-out of broadband connectivity to every school in the State.

But the Irish National Teachers’ Organisation was more sceptical. Incoming general secretary Sheila Nunan said the package will just about cover the cost of a basic laptop and projector in each class. Teachers, she said, would adopt a cautious approach to the announcement because during the boom, the Government ignored school computing.

“Teachers will not be fooled by any hype or spin relating to the announcement,” said Ms Nunan.

The Republic has one of the lowest rates of ICT usage in education in the developed world. It is close to the bottom of OECD tables in relation to ICT.

A recent survey of computers in schools found one in five cannot be used and more than half are at least four years old.

Launching a new report Smart Schools = Smart Economy, in St Joseph’s National School, Terenure, Dublin, Mr Cowen said: “The Government recognises the need for investment in this area and it’s committed to providing funding to support ICT in teaching and learning in our schools.”

The report, prepared by industry experts, identified an “infrastructural deficit” in schools’ basic technology systems that needed to be addressed to ensure Ireland keeps pace with global technological developments.

The report recommended the initial €150 million investment package to close the current infrastructure gap. But it also says this must be supported by a €30 million annual budget for “support, rolling replacement and enhancement of the service”.

Mr O’Keeffe said: “The potential of ICT as a motivational tool to engage students and to enrich and enliven teaching across the curriculum is well recognised.”

He predicted that the international average of five computers per classroom would be achieved over the next three years.

The funding will come from the school building programme, where more than €140 million has still to be allocated. As a first step, €22 million in grants will be issued to primary schools before the end of this year. Funding for post-primary schools will be made available early in the new year.

A group chaired by Paul Rellis of Microsoft Ireland will track implementation of the new plan and report to the Minister.

Fine Gael education spokesman Brian Hayes said the package must not be another gimmick that promises much but delivers little and continues to leave Irish schoolchildren well behind their international counterparts.

Michael Moriarty, representing vocational school managers, said: “Ireland still has a steep ICT skills mountain to climb to ensure that that its school-leavers are equipped to take advantage of employment opportunities in a knowledge economy.”

The technology gap: how Irish schools are left behind

One-fifth of school computers are not working due to their age or the lack of technical support;

One in three Irish 15-year-olds has not used a computer in school, twice the average in the rest of the developed world;

Teacher satisfaction with the ICT infrastructure in their schools is lowest in Ireland;

Ireland is 20th in a list of 30 OECD countries, with fewer than one computer for every 10 students;

Ireland ranks 19th in the EU 27 in terms of broadband for schools.