Broadband speeds too low in most primary schools

Nearly six in 10 had download speeds of less than 30Mbps, figures show

At the end of the 2018-2019 school year, 1,353 mainstream and special primary schools had download speeds of at least 30Mbps, while 1,793 schools had slower internet access.

At the end of the 2018-2019 school year, 1,353 mainstream and special primary schools had download speeds of at least 30Mbps, while 1,793 schools had slower internet access.

 

Almost six out of every 10 primary schools in Ireland have broadband speeds below what is considered a minimum level of connectivity for access to the internet.

Data released by the Department of Education shows that 57 per cent of mainstream primary schools had expected downloads speeds of less than 30Mbps at the end of the 2018-2019 school year.

The Government’s national broadband plan has set a target of providing download speeds of at least 30Mbps to all households as an acceptable level of connectivity.

Details of download speeds in more than 3,000 primary schools nationwide released under freedom-of-information legislation following the intervention of the Information Commissioner also reveal wide variations between schools in different parts of the country.

Figures show that 87 per cent of schools in Dublin have download speeds in excess of 30Mbps but only 10 per cent of schools in Roscommon have similar strong levels of connectivity.

In only four counties – Dublin, Louth, Wicklow and Kildare – do more than half of schools have download speeds of 30Mbps or faster.

Just over 13 per cent of schools have a connection of 10Mbps or less. In many cases, schools say their internet connection is even slower than the expected rate.

Slow connections

Three primary schools – Killasolan National School near Caltra, Co Galway; Scoil Náisiúnta Naofa Padraig in Fohenagh, Co Galway; and Scoil Náisiúnta na hAille in Monard, Co Tipperary – are listed as having download speeds of just 1Mbps.

Even in Dublin, which has generally good high-speed broadband availability, there are schools in Foxrock, Rathfarnham, Drumcondra and Finglas with very slow internet connections.

A spokesperson for the department said the number of primary schools with access to download speeds of at least 30Mbps was constantly increasing.

“Current broadband capacity varies due to geographical location and local infrastructure,” he added.

In a statement, the department claimed 1,600 schools, which it said was about half of all primary schools, had to date access to download speeds of 30Mbps through a framework of 14 providers that had been put in place since 2017.

However, the figures at the end of the 2018-2019 school year show 1,353 mainstream and special primary schools had download speeds of at least 30Mbps, while 1,793 schools had slower internet access.

“The department is anxious to ensure that providers continue improving their services in all areas they serve in order that the department can provide the best available services to schools,” the spokesperson said.

The department pointed out that fewer than 100 schools had fast internet access in 2012.

Loughegar National School in Co Westmeath, about 5km outside Mullingar, has a recorded download speed of 4Mbps for its 206 pupils and 15 teaching staff.

“The reality is it’s often less than 2Mbps. The speed doesn’t allow us to access the core content of the curriculum for the children,” said the school’s principal, Niall Brennan.

He claimed the poor download speed meant teachers and pupils were unable to fully utilise tablets and interactive whiteboards available to the school.

Private contractors

Mr Brennan said the school was constantly seeing if the situation could be improved but the department had sent out several private contractors who had been unable to provide a better signal.

He said it was “particularly strange and frustrating” that a fibre broadband connection was located just across the road from the school.

“Teaching has changed and a school can’t function properly without access to broadband and we struggle,” said Mr Brennan.

In contrast, Scoil Íosagáin in Limerick city enjoys one of the fastest connections of any school in the Republic with 300Mbps.

“It has made a huge difference. With wireless connection in every classroom, it allows us to provide a stable platform for an entire class to use individual laptops. It would be impossible without decent speeds,” said the school principal, Denis Barry.