Taoiseach Brian Cowan announced €150 million funding over three years a fortnight ago in a new Department of Education and Science plan for “Smart Schools”. €22 million was promised for primary schools before the end of the year. The first details of these very welcome ICT grants for primary schools began to emerge in the last few days. A minimum base grant of €1,700 plus €34.59 per pupil based on each primary school’s enrolment as of 30 September 2008 is to be paid to schools very shortly. This grant is to be used in the first instance for the purchase of a fixed digital projector and teaching computer (desktop or laptop) equipped with a wireless keyboard and mouse for each classroom. This equipment is to be considered as a baseline equipment for every classroom in the school. Only in cases where such baseline equipment is in place in each classroom can schools opt to spend the funding on other approved equipment such as laptop trolleys, visualisers, interactive whiteboards etc. Schools must use the NCTE Purchasing Frameworks where these are in place for any ICT equipment they purchase. I believe that schools should follow the excellent NCTE advice on giving serious consideration to purchasing short throw projectors instead of ceiling mounted long throw projectors. I made a quick phonecall, today to a Promethean Reseller and Steljes who distribute Smart Boards, the two market leaders of interactive whiteboards for guideline pricing for a short throw projector mounted on a boom arm on the wall. Steljes suggested that depending on the projector chosen an approximate price of €1,400 including installation. The Promethean Reseller suggested that Promethean have a new bundle which includes HP Laptop with Activ Inspire installed, short throw projector mounted on a boom arm for €1,800 approx including installation. The laptop included as part of this bundle might present a difficulty for schools with regard to the requirement of using NCTE Frameworks where available as a purchasing Framework Agreement is already in place for laptops. A Framework Agreement for Digital Projectors is expected to be in place very soon and who knows, bundles such as this may form part of it. Further details will be found in a letter to each Board of Management’s Chairperson or on the NCTE website.
No doubt some schools will be disappointed that they may have to wait some time before they can purchase full interactive whiteboard systems for classrooms. For such schools the Jack and Jill Foundation’s – Phones for Boards Project in association with Promethean may be of interest. By collecting 300 old mobile phones for recycling, a school can get a free Promethean interactive whiteboard (board only, no projector). Indeed there are already over 1,000 Irish schools registered for this innovative, exiting and very worthy charitable project. More details can be found on the Phones for Boards website.