Wednesday, 21 October 2020

Ceisteanna (212)

Brendan Smith

Ceist:

212. Deputy Brendan Smith asked the Minister for Further and Higher Education, Research, Innovation and Science the supports that will be provided to students to assist them with online and blended learning in which difficulties arise due to inadequate broadband telecommunications; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [32074/20]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Further and Higher Education)

It has been a significant priority for me, in the context of the shift to online teaching and learning that has arisen from the public health restrictions, to provide support to students to facilitate connectivity and to examine options designed to seek to minimise the extent to which connectivity challenges act as a barrier to full participation in higher and further education.

In this regard, as part of the package of financial support approved by Government to help underpin the recommencement of higher and further education for the current academic year, my Department allocated €15 million to higher and further education providers for a grant to support disadvantaged students in accessing ICT devices. This initiative which enabled a bulk purchase of approximately 16,500 laptops on behalf of higher education institutions is intended to help address concerns regarding the digital divide in the context of the shift to online and blended models of learning, and the importance of supporting disadvantaged students to adapt to these new models of learning.

The delivery through the National Broadband Plan of high-speed internet connectively nationwide will ultimately provide a solution to current differences in broadband experience for students and learners. In the interim there are initiatives across a number of Government Departments to facilitate connection through community-based broadband hubs and liaison with telecommunication providers on packages, including unlimited data. It is also worth noting that, at the present time HEAnet provides a WiFi solution - Eduroam - designed by and for the higher education community which operates across the education locations nationally. Eduroam allows a student to access WiFi wherever Eduroam is broadcast, enabling a student to seamlessly roam from one Eduroam location to another.

HEAnet is currently working on options to extend the reach of Eduroam beyond the traditional campus locations to areas within the wider community. An extended Eduroam footprint would greatly overcome connectivity challenges and facilitate staff and students in effective teaching and learning activities based at their home location. HEAnet has already made progress in this regard, with Eduroam now available at many teaching hospitals and several public libraries.

I have recently facilitated engagement between HEAnet and relevant Government Departments and Public Sector Bodies to explore the potential for pilot projects trialling the availability to students of Eduroam, via wi-fi hotspots in public infrastructure owned and/or funded by the State. I anticipate receiving an update from HEAnet on its engagement with these bodies shortly.