So possibly no €252m at all

Robbie O’Leary, principal of Sacred Heart Senior National School, Killinarden, Dublin posted a transcript of a Dáil Session on the CESI and DICTAT discussion lists. It refers to our promised €252 million investment into ICT in schools from the Department of Education. It appears that we may not be receiving it at all. Judge for yourselves…

79. Deputy Brian Hayes asked the Minister for
Education and Science when schools will be able
to draw down the €252 million investment promised for information
and communications technology; and if he will make a statement on
the matter. [20085/08]


Minister for Education and Science (Deputy Batt O’Keeffe):
Since the introduction of the programme of
investment in information and communications technology in 1998,
almost €200 million has been invested in information and
communications technology in schools. Some €80 million was provided
to schools in equipment grants under the Schools ICT 2000 and
Blueprint for the Future of ICT schemes. A further €23 million has
been provided since 2004 to develop the networking capacity of
schools and facilitate the full exploitation by schools of the
potential offered by broadband connectivity and the efficient use
by schools of computer software. The current national development
plan provides for investment of €252 million in information and
communications technology in schools between 2007 and 2013.


The Deputy will be aware that my predecessor appointed a strategy
group to advise on the priorities for expenditure on information
and communications technology in schools. I intend to publish the
group’s report shortly. The report will cover areas of required
investment over the lifetime of the national development plan. At
its core will be the embedding of information and communications
technology in the teaching and learning culture of schools. This
will require continuing investment in teacher professional
development to build further on the impressive teacher
participation levels which have been evident to date. It will
require the continuing maintenance of a national broadband network
for schools, the upgrading and renewal of hardware and the
provision of software and digital content. It will be important to
focus on the provision of technical support to schools and the
development of appropriate models in a cost effective manner.


Decisions on the timing and amount of expenditure in this area this
year must be made in the overall context of the current budgetary
situation. I am required to work within the budget set for the
Department of Education and Science. My officials and I are
reviewing the overall financial position with regard to spending
trends and emerging pressures. Following this review, I anticipate
that I will be in a position to make decisions on specific areas of
expenditure.


Deputy Brian Hayes: I congratulate Deputy Batt
O’Keeffe on his appointment as Minister for Education and Science.
I look forward to working with him over the course of the next
while. I wish him well in his new position.


In his response to Question No. 79, which relates to the
development of information and communications technology in our
schools, the Minister seemed to suggest that the €252 million that
is allegedly earmarked for this sector over the course of the
national development plan may be at risk. Can the Minister
unequivocally tell the House whether the €252 million which was
dedicated for the development of information and communications
technology in schools over the course of the national development
plan is absolutely guaranteed?


Deputy Batt O’Keeffe: I thought I had made it
plain that I am discussing the exact financial position with my
officials. It has not been easy to examine all the funding issues
in the Department of Education and Science. I am not in a position
today to say “Yes, something will happen”. I have provided for
expenditure in the schools sector of approximately €20 million, on
the current side. I will continue to fund the National Centre for
Technology in Education, which provides more than 10,000 continuing
professional development training places to teachers each year. I
am in discussions with my colleague, the Minister for
Communications, Energy and Natural Resources, Deputy Ryan, on the
issue of broadband services in schools.


Deputy Brian Hayes: Do I understand correctly
from the Minister that the answer to my question is that the €252
million funding package is not guaranteed over the course of the
next five to six years? If so, this news will come as a bombshell
to schools throughout the country. The Minister’s predecessor made
17 separate announcements pertaining to the €252 million
allocation.


Deputy Ulick Burke: That is right.


Deputy Brian Hayes: The Minister has now honestly
told the Dáil that there is no absolute, firm and gilt-edged
guarantee that this money will be provided for schools. Is he aware
that Ireland is ranked 20th of 30 OECD countries in respect of
expenditure in this area? Does he know that Ireland is ranked 19th
of the 27 EU member states in respect of the roll-out of broadband?
We have one computer for every ten children in this country. Our
information and communications technology funding record is
abysmal. The Minister, unlike his predecessor, has been honest with
the Dáil. He has admitted that there is no commitment to provide a
€252 million spending package. This news will come as a bombshell
to schools. Can the Minister tell the Dáil whether he has read the
report of the expert group? I understand that the group has said
that an allocation of €252 million would be insufficient to meet
the technological development needs of this country’s schools. Can
the Minister confirm whether the expert group has told him that?


Deputy Batt O’Keeffe: I do not want the Deputy to
misinterpret what I am saying. I am in discussions with my
officials about the overall package of funding within the
Department. I am not saying that I do not intend to put funding in
place for information and communications technology. It is in the
national development plan. It is obvious that it is my
aspiration—–


Deputy Brian Hayes: It is no more than an
aspiration.


Deputy Batt O’Keeffe: —–to meet the demands of
that part of the national development plan.


Deputy Brian Hayes: It is not true.


Deputy Batt O’Keeffe: I certainly do not intend
to give Deputy Hayes an absolute commitment, in the Dáil, that I
have the funding to roll out the whole of this.

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