As part of the implementation of the Digital Strategy for Schools 2015-2020 -Enhancing Teaching, Learning and Assessment, the Department of Education has to date provided €160m of grant aid to schools for ICT Infrastructure. A further €50m will issue over the next week to schools, representing the full commitment of €210m over the period of the Strategy. This ICT grant funding issues directly to schools and schools are best placed to identify the requirements of their own student cohort and to meet those requirements in the most appropriate way. 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.
Schools are also expected to have a Digital Learning Plan in place, with this funding intended to support that, and in that context, innovative projects aligned with a school's Digital Learning Plan can be supported.
Under the Digital Strategy for Schools, my Department is operating a School Excellence Fund Digital & STEM programme, through which schools are supported to collaborate on innovative projects with funding, substitution and cpd. This programme is now in its third and final year, with some 40 projects comprising 200 schools underway. Schools can involve industry partners and third level institutions in these projects.
It should be noted that where schools are utilising funding provided by the exchequer, procurement and financial procedures must be adhered to as outlined in the circular on the ICT Grant Scheme published on the Department website.
My Department also collaborates with colleagues in the Department of Environment, Climate and Communications on their School Digital Champion programme. The programme is an initiative which aims to motivate, encourage and support schools in embracing digital technology.
Separately, and through the Schools Broadband Access Programme, the Department provides for improved ICT infrastructure for the supply of internet connectivity for all recognised primary and post primary schools and some 98% of schools avail of this service.
Finally, you may wish to note also that in November 2019 my Department launched guidelines to help schools and industry build deeper ties in relation to STEM subjects. Guidelines for developing STEM School – Business/Industry Partnerships is a resource to support schools and businesses and enterprise to kick-start engagement and develop long-lasting and sustainable partnerships. The guidelines were developed by my Department in conjunction with the Department of Business, Enterprise and Innovation, Science Foundation Ireland, the IDA, IBEC, American Chamber of Commerce and Enterprise Ireland. The guidelines are available at: https://www.education.ie/en/The-Education-System/STEM-Education-Policy/stem-partnerships.html.