Under my Department's schools broadband programme, connectivity to the Internet is routed through a national broadband network, developed by HEAnet, the national education and research network provider. HEAnet controls the broadband access to schools and it provides centrally managed services for schools such as security, anti-spam, anti-virus and content filtering. Access to resources such as on-line versions of Britannica and World Book are also only available through the schools broadband network.
As the Deputy is aware, my Department has secured broadband services on behalf of schools and under the resultant contracts the best available connections, within resources, were provided. However, in some cases only satellite services were available. Since the commencement of the roll-out of phase two in 2009 of the schools broadband programme, there has been more than a 50% increase in bandwidth capacity. This is due to improved bandwidth speeds being made available to schools and the substantial reduction in the number of schools which are connected via satellite. Schools are offered satellite connections only where no alternative was offered during the procurement process. Should a better solution become available from the contractors over the lifetime of the contracts, schools may be migrated to the new solution. In addition, my Department is working with the Department of Communications, Energy and Natural Resources on a pilot project using 100 megabits broadband connectivity to 78 post-primary schools.
It is important to remember that broadband is just one element of a wider policy on the use of ICT in schools. Since 1998, almost €300 million has been invested in the ICT in schools programme. The programme has addressed four broad areas: the provision of essential ICT infrastructure and networking within schools; the provision of access to broadband connectivity to schools; up-skilling teachers' ICT skills; and integrating ICT in the curriculum and providing curriculum-relevant digital content and software.
As part of the Government's commitment to ICT in education, the Smart Schools = Smart Economy report was published in November 2009. This report builds on the 2008 strategy group report, and contains relevant recommendations in the context of how best to realise the potential of ICT use in schools. Some €22.3 million in ICT grants was provided to primary schools in 2009 and a further €24 million of funding to primary schools has just been announced. In addition, funding of almost €21 million was recently provided to post-primary schools.
Additional information not given on the floor of the House.
The National Centre for Technology in Education contributes to the ICT in schools programme in several key respects. Under its teaching skills initiative, the NCTE offers ICT-related training programmes. An estimated 12,000 training places were provided in 2009. Scoilnet, the national portal for digital content in Irish education, provides a central resource to teachers, pupils and parents, offering access to a growing repository of advice and information.
My Department will continue to implement the ambitious ICT in schools programme which will ensure that our schools are making the best use of ICT in teaching and learning.