In 2004, Ireland’s government decided that to grow and sustain a knowledge-based workforce, it must ensure that every school in the country was technologically proficient, beginning with universal access to broadband connectivity. To achieve this, the Irish government teamed with the industry body representing telecom and Internet companies to jointly fund an EUR 18 million national broadband network for Ireland’s schools. The network would integrate terrestrial and satellite communications and be centrally managed by HEAnet, Ireland’s national education and research network.225
The Next Generation Broadband Policy Paper of June 2009 stated that “connectivity to schools, in particular, will benefit from the Government’s investment in broadband infrastructure. We aim to equip second-level schools in Ireland with 100 Mbps of broadband connectivity and Local Area Networks (LAN) on a phased basis. This will enable students to learn and collaborate online.”1226
The provision of 100 Mbps broadband Internet access to all second level schools was seen as contributing to an important policy objective of the government which was to promote a learning environment in schools that:
- Takes full advantage of ICTs in teaching and learning and in the delivery of a modern curriculum, and
- Encourages all students to become self-assured, self-directed learners throughout their lives, and to acquire the aptitudes, values and skills for successful participation as citizens of the knowledge society.227
The Irish government appointed HEAnet228 to leverage public investment while also allowing synergies and operational efficiencies to be explored with regard to HEAnet’s current operation of the Schools Broadband Network, which continues to deliver broadband connectivity to the roughly 4,000 schools across Ireland. The initial contract(s) under this programme call for delivering 100 Mbps symmetrical broadband connectivity to 78 post-primary school locations within the scope of a pilot project. The 78 school locations represent a mix of schools in urban and rural areas and have been agreed by the Programme Steering Committee, with the objective of delivering specific learning objectives. In addition, schools will receive an edge router managed by HEAnet, and access to the Internet will continue to be filtered (as is the policy under the current wider Schools Broadband Programme). Wireless LAN and ICT equipment (laptops and projectors) will be delivered to each of the 78 schools in the initial pilot phase.229
All second-level schools are due to have the 100 Mbps broadband service installed by the end of 2014. Some 200 were to receive it in 2012, 200 in 2013 and the final 250 schools in 2014. The provision of service to the schools to be connected in 2012 was to be awarded in a tender competition under an established framework agreement administered by HEAnet.
This project is the result of cooperation between the Department of Communications, Energy and Natural Resources and the Department of Education and Skills, the Higher Education Authority, HEAnet and the National Centre for Technology in Education, in conjunction with core services supplied by ESB Telecom. The Project has been co-funded by the European Regional Development Fund (ERDF).
HEAnet has built and will maintain the network on behalf of the Department of Communications, Energy and Natural Resources. The National Centre for Technology in Education is charged with the integration of ICT within schools. They will also provide front-line support for the staff of the schools. ESB Telecoms has provided backhaul from regional locations to Dublin.
In 2012, 202 school connections were connected, meaning that 280 of Ireland's post-primary schools will be in a position to benefit from a 100 Mbps broadband connection from October 2012. Remaining post-primary schools will be connected over 2013 and 2014 as per the Government's national roll-out plan. 230
226 Next Generation Broadband Policy Paper. Available at: http://www.dcenr.gov.ie
228 HEAnet is Ireland’s National Education and Research Network, established in 1984 by the Irish Universities with the support of the Higher Education Authority. HEAnet provides an essential e-Infrastructure service across all levels of the Irish education system. The very high bandwidth network connects all Irish Universities, all Institutes of Technology, other higher education institutions (HEIs) and research organizations, in addition to all primary and post-primary schools across Ireland.