The Minister for Education and Skills, Richard Bruton, has announced a new grant for the purchase of ICT infrastructure. Today’s announcement of a €30m investment is the first part of the implementation of the government’s €210m Digital Strategy for Schools 2015-2020, first launched by the previous Minister, Jan O’ Sullivan in November 2015.
The purpose of the new grant is to support the development and implementation of an eLearning Plan for each school to embed ICT in teaching and learning. The Circular dealing with the new scheme gives examples of what the grant may be used for. It includes teaching computers (PCs, laptops, tablets, hybrid devices), projectors, shared pupil computers, networking equipment, cloud-based tools, learning platforms, local software and other peripheral ICT equipment.
Each primary school will receive a lump sum of €2,000 as well as €22.20 per mainstream pupil. Extra allowances are made for pupils with special educational needs enrolled in mainstream schools as well as for DEIS schools. The Minister says that the grant will be worth approximately €4,000 to a 100 pupil primary school and €11,000 for a 500 pupil primary school.
Minister Bruton commented:
“For the generation of children recently born, creative thinking and problem-solving skills will be absolutely key to how they develop in reach and achieve their potential. In particular, their ability to think critically and develop solutions in the digital world will be vital for their prospects in life.”
“Our Digital Strategy for Schools sets out a clear vision that is focussed on realising the potential of digital technologies to transform the learning experiences of students. While we are introducing coding and computer science into the curriculum, we must also invest in the ICT infrastructure of our schools. That is why we are making €30m in ICT grants available to schools in the coming weeks. In the next five years we will invest €210m in our schools.”
Schools should soon see this grant paid directly into the school bank accounts after which decisions on what to spend it on will need to be made. The Circular outlines the process for disposal of the grant and how it should be spent.
This is great news for schools as it is the first real investment in ICT infrastructure in many years. For many schools, they may now be able to replace outdated equipment and upgrade to some up-to-date technology. There will, of course, be a flurry of glossy brochures arriving in schools from technology companies more than willing to relieve you of this grant money.
There was no mention in today’s announcement by Minister Bruton of Broadband infrastructure, which is the bane of many schools, especially isolated rural schools, of which there are many around the country. This has to be a priority as it affects teachers’ willingness to embrace e-learning as a teaching strategy on a daily basis. And without proper and consistent connectivity, newly purchased technology will soon be abandoned.
Likewise, one has to wonder why there is a disparity between the grants awarded to primary and post-primary schools. Under the scheme, €22.20 is allocated to a primary pupil while €31.90 is allocated to each post-primary pupils. Using the Minister’s figures from today’s announcement, a 500-pupil primary school will get a grant of €11,000 while a post-primary school of similar size will get a grant of €15,000. Why does a post-primary school of equal size require a grant of €4,000 more than a similar primary school to embed technology into their curriculum? It’s more than baffling!
It would also be helpful in this context if schools could see a return of the loss of their middle management positions. With the cutbacks and moratorium on promoted posts over the past few years, many schools have lost the person responsible for the promotion and development of ICT in the school. If the government wants schools to have a dedicated person in each school to provide ICT leadership, then promoted posts need to be returned.
Today’s announcement is welcome news for schools, starved for many years of ICT funding. It is hoped that there will be similar funding for schools over the next five years to make schools real digital learning spaces.