Written answers

Thursday, 15 October 2020

Department of Education and Skills

National Broadband Plan

Photo of Joe O'BrienJoe O'Brien (Dublin Fingal, Green Party)
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198. To ask the Minister for Education and Skills her plans to ensure that all primary school children have adequate IT access in order that they can avail of home-based or blended learning should the Covid-19 pandemic require a further closure of schools. [30813/20]

Norma Foley (Kerry, Fianna Fail)
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As a contingency for any future school closures, whether localised or at a bigger scale, and to ensure compliance with any public health restrictions, it is essential that all schools are prepared and have in place appropriate measures to continue to deliver teaching and learning whether for closure of a class group or the school. This also applies where individual learners may be advised not to attend school, whether for the purposes of self isolation or because they are in the very high risk category. In this regard, my Department is in the process of drafting a circular that will issue to schools to help in their preparation for such eventualities. The circular will provide guidance and support to schools, building on the work already done by schools, to put in place arrangements to facilitate communication with and between staff, between staff and learners and to facilitate online approaches to remote and blended learning as required. My Department is engaging with education stakeholders, including unions and management bodies, to finalise the circular.

Responsibility for ensuring that learners receive appropriate support to engage adequately with learning remains with the school in which they are enrolled. Regular and ongoing communication between school and home will be essential to support engagement with learning and continuous connection with classmates and school community. Additional supports will be provided for these learners from within the staffing resources of the school. Schools will have discretion to manage and redistribute their support resources in order to best meet the learning needs of their pupils and students.

Resources to support schools and teachers to the transition to distance learning using technology, including blended learning approaches, are being provided by the Department support service, the Professional Development Service for Teachers (PDST), at www.pdst.ie/DistanceLearning.

As part of the implementation of the Digital Strategy for Schools 2015-2020 - Enhancing Teaching, Learning and Assessment, funding of €210m for ICT Infrastructure will be distributed by my Department to primary and second level schools over the five years of the Strategy. €110m has issued over the last three years and a further €50m has recently been issued in respect of the 2019-2020 school year. It is expected a further tranche of €50m will issue in the 2020-2021 school year.

This ICT Grant funding issues to schools, as schools are best placed to identify the requirements of their own student cohort and to meet those requirements. In the context of the current public health crisis this funding can be focussed on assisting schools to address ICT needs including devices, software and other ICT solutions to support the provision of remote learning. This can include the purchase of ICT devices that can be shared with students who do not have access to devices, essential learning platforms and other ICT infrastructure to support the provision of remote learning.

Information as to the broadband connectivity available to individual children in their homes would not be available to my Department. In the context of the National Broadband Plan Intervention area implementation, the Department of the are addressing the needs of those areas with poor connectivity.

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