1 June, 2021

Minister for Education Norma Foley TD has welcomed the inclusion of a major investment programme for the Department of Education in the Government’s National Recovery and Resilience Plan (NRRP) for approval of the European Council.

The NextGeneration EU funding is Europe’s shared response to the severe health and economic crisis caused by COVID-19. NextGenerationEU is an ambitious and common recovery package which will complement and support each country’s own national response to the crisis.

The objective of the Department of Education programme is to ensure that all learners are equipped with appropriate skills for the digital age. The Department of Education proposal comprises two projects in the Digital area.

Project A aims to support high speed broadband connectivity in all primary schools.

Project B to fund interventions to address the digital divide, particularly access to digital devices and relevant ICT infrastructure. The funding sought under EU/NRRP is for investment of €66.5m.

Minister Foley said:

I am very hopeful that this ambitious proposal submitted will allow us to build on existing funding commitments from national funds and make even greater strides in the two important areas of enhanced digital infrastructure for schools and addressing learners at risk of educational disadvantage through the digital divide by providing funding to schools.

School communities made incredible strides in digital teaching and learning during the pandemic. An enormous effort was made by teachers and students, and a huge amount has been learned. We know also that for some students a lack of infrastructure impeded their ability to engage with remote learning and this digital divide will also impact their capacity to engage fully with digital technology and development of digital skills.

As we move beyond this phase, we need to acknowledge the great effort and progress made. The enhanced investment sought under the NRRP will advance greatly the efforts to ensure that technology and infrastructure is in place to support teaching and learning in the classroom across all schools and ensure inclusion of all learners.

Minister of State Anne Rabbitte said:

I wholeheartedly welcome this announcement by my colleague Minister Norma Foley.  Feedback is the breakfast of champions.  School communities have been so courageous during the pandemic, pivoting, adapting and effectively embracing online learning imposed by the crisis.  The pandemic accelerated profound shifts that were already taking place in the global economy.

and she continued:

Two areas that have seen significantly relatively less innovation with respect to our increasingly digital lifestyle are education and healthcare.  Education in much of the world has remained relatively unchanged for decades, and healthcare has remained much more “brick-and-mortar” than online. The pandemic exposed the vulnerabilities intrinsic in these two sectors overnight. 

The pandemic has forced educators and educational institutions to get creative and has accelerated the pace of identifying what works and what doesn’t work.  Technology can provide students, teachers, and parents with regular, objective feedback and support. Students can become more self-directed, learning at a pace that suits them, rather than forcing educators to pace the class at roughly the median level (which inevitably leads to some students being underwhelmed while others are overwhelmed).

That said, while the technology is available, the digital divide between those students who have access to devices and connectivity and those who don’t is critical and varies widely from town to town.  This new funding is critical to address the imbalance.

and she concluded:

This divide is something that will need to be addressed to fully leverage the potential for EdTech to improve the productive capacity of our nation’s future labor force, thus accelerating their economic growth potential.