Yes, funding for ICT in education is imminent… After years of under-investment in technology in education, last week Minister for Education and Skills, Richard Bruton T.D, announced a fresh raft of grants for ICT infrastructure in primary and post-primary schools. Whilst long overdue but very welcome in itself, the €30 million to be rolled out shortly is only the start of the implementation of the government’s €210 Million Digital Strategy for Schools (Launched late 2015). The remainder will be spread over the next five years, giving a degree of certainty that schools have craved since the original IT2000 Initiative launched 20 years back. However, let’s not get carried away just yet. There is a certain degree of Deja-vu here, remember the €150 Million Government Investment for ‘Smart Schools” which we covered back in November 2009 (And if memory serves me right it was a year after this before funds were released)? Lest we forget, one of the key objectives of the Smart Schools=Smart Economy report was that ICT funding would be provided on an annual basis so schools could plan long-term with ongoing government investment. As it transpired that particular round of funding was the last meaningful support schools received for ICT.

So what’s different in 2017? Well In the latest press release we’re told “The funding will support the development and implementation of an eLearning Plan for each school to embed ICT in teaching and learning”, laudable of course but have we not heard this before? In fact, I suspect the vast majority of this tranche of investment will be used to replace ageing hardware, be they antiquated Windows XP desktops or end of life projectors and IWBs. Another similarity with previous initiatives that jumps out is that the support being offered is again overly hardware specific with little reference to how we can ensure that teachers are supported appropriately to embed ICT in their classrooms. To boot, schools  appear to be very much left to their own devices on how to spend grants and deploy resources with minimal guidance. This approach in the past has been responsible for the significant differences that exist out there between the levels of ICT integration from one school to the next. So could the gap between the digitally literate and the not-so digitally literate further widen as a result of this latest announcement?

No I hope not and lets park the reservations above for a moment, the difference this time is that The Digital Strategy for Schools that underpins this investment makes all the right noises, providing a roadmap for real change (more here) and to quote the previous post on the Strategy launch…

“So the Strategy is launched and it maps out a path for next five years. Ultimately, it is only words on paper and the real test will be in how well the Strategy is implemented.”

I believe that if the underlying principles of this document are adhered to over the five years and supported by the promised investment, then I think we’re very much looking at a glass that is half full with tangible ICT integration achievable this time round. The devil of course is always in the detail and nothing’s going to change overnight. However, the green shoots may just about be starting to appear. Let’s wait and see…

For more see Circular 0001/2017 – Grant Scheme For ICT Infrastructure – 2016-2017 School Year

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