Irish schools to receive funding for broadband

Whole classes can use the Internet
Whole classes can use the Internet
11 March 2004

The Irish Department of Communications, Marine and Natural Resources together with the Telecommunications Industry Federation in Ireland have announced plans to fund Irish schools' access to broadband with 18 million Euros.

The need for this became apparent, in part, because of an ESA funded project; SchoolSat managed by the Belgian company ATiT clearly demonstrated how satellite based services could be used to reach remote and rural schools where literally no other technology is currently available.

People without the skills to use ICT effectively, and thus unable to take full advantage of digital technologies, form an important segment in the Digital Divide. Bringing low-cost, bandwidth to areas such as rural Ireland in general and to schools in particular represents a step in narrowing the Digital Divide.

A variety of studies and experiences helped the Irish Government to formulate the programme. One of these was the research carried out by ATiT to identify those school populations in Europe most likely to benefit from satellite access. SchoolSat was the result of this research. This pilot project ran from February 2002 to February 2003 and tested the feasibility of using satellite to provide Internet connectivity for schools.

Web-Sat satellite dish
Web-Sat satellite dish

A consortium was created comprising the National Centre for Technology in Education in Ireland (NCTE), Web-Sat, an Irish-based satellite service provider and the Donegal Education Centre representing Donegal schools. SchoolSat provided broadband Internet access to nine secondary schools in Donegal and the Donegal Education Centre, representing almost a third of the secondary schools in that county. Each school was equipped with a small (84 cm) satellite dish, offering the Web-Sat Internet access service with up to 4Mbps download to the school and 64kbps return.

The faster access enabled uses of the Internet that were not viable with slower access. In Carndonagh for example, they were able to use the 'Skoool' site with 24 students online simultaneously. In Buncrana, a school where ISDN used to 'grind to a halt' when more than 6 or 7 computers were connected; the new connection allowed the entire class to use the Internet.

"For the first time", according to Colm Toland from Carndonagh school, one of the teachers taking part, "whole classes can use the Internet at the same time, something which simply wasn't possible in the past." Schools in Donegal continue to use the SchoolSat service which is now funded directly by the Dept of Education and Science.

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