Wednesday, 7 March 2012
All post-primary schools will have a 100 MB broadband connection installed by the end of 2014 in a project jointly funded by the Department of Communications, Energy and Natural Resources and the Department of Education and Skills. This follows on from the successful pilot project which has been running in some second level schools for the past two years. The national roll-out will be completed on an incremental basis, with 200 schools being connected by October 2012, a further 200 being connected in 2013 and the remaining 250 schools being connected in 2014.
This investment is tangible evidence of the Government's commitment to the integration of ICT in teaching and learning, and to our support for a new digital economy. The availability of high quality broadband connectivity will allow schools to fully integrate ICT as a key teaching resource for all subjects. In so doing, we will enhance the traditional learning experience as well as providing basic building blocks for a 21st century digital workforce.
It is expected that the first 200 second level schools in the national roll-out will be connected by September 2012, although some of them will not be connected until October, depending on the arrangements. These include all second level schools in counties Cavan, Clare, Donegal, Galway, Laois, Leitrim, Longford, Louth, Mayo, Monaghan, Offaly, Roscommon, Sligo and Westmeath. Working closely with my colleague, the Minister for Education and Skills, I look forward to the full roll-out of this programme over the next three years.
To be honest, I have not got that far yet. The reason I selected the 12 counties mentioned is because broadband is weakest in most of them. They have basic broadband, but they do not have high speed broadband. I visited a school in Claremorris, with which I have some familiarity, where the first year students have been using tablets since the beginning of the academic year, but due to the weakness of broadband provision, they will not be able to continue that as they move through the school. The fantastic opportunities created by the availability of industrial strength broadband in second level schools mean that 50 classrooms can operate at the same time and the quality of teaching and learning is enhanced.
The truthful answer to Deputy Collins's question is that I have not decided for 2013. The criteria for this year related to where broadband provision was weakest. I would like to see the belt of west Dublin being included next year, but if Deputy Collins is making a plea for west Limerick, I will have a look at that as well.
Has the Minister any intention of bringing in the 100 MB broadband service into primary schools? There are many rural areas that do not have access to high speed broadband, even though some people would like to work from home. Does the Minister envisage the possibility of bringing the service to rural areas?
This question deals with broadband provision, as does Question No. 17, but I do not think we will get to that. When is the next generation broadband task force due to report? What resources will be made available to it when it reports?
The two questions are connected. I had a considerable battle to get the money to roll out high-speed broadband across the second level schools. The capital cost is being borne by my Department. We are also bearing the current cost in the year of installation and for a year thereafter. I certainly do not have the resources to perform a similar role for the primary schools.
Deputy Lawlor and I might have an interesting discussion at another time about whether this facility is as badly needed in primary schools as it is in second level schools. In any event, his question is connected to that raised by Deputy Murphy about the general quality and availability of broadband throughout the country. We have had the last meeting of the task force, which I have chaired, between representatives of telecommunications companies and the relevant senior people in my Department. The purpose of that report is to address Ireland's competence in next generation access. As a result of that report, I will be required to bring a plan before the Government that devises a roadmap for the future in this critical area, highlighting where there is robust competition and adequate, acceptable high quality connectivity, and where there is not. I hope to pick up some of the concerns of both Deputies in that context.