A NEW high-speed schools broadband programme will transform Irish education, the Government maintained yesterday -- but only 78 of the country's 4,000 schools enjoy the fast link.
Communications Minister Eamon Ryan announced yesterday -- not for the first time -- a €13m scheme that has delivered 100-megabit-per-second broadband to 78 second-level schools, a speed equivalent to what big multi-nationals use.
But almost 700 more second-level schools will have to wait up to two years for it to be extended to them. And more than 3,200 primary schools have no timescale as to when they can expect it.
Speaking at St Colmcille's Community School, Knocklyon, Dublin, yesterday, Mr Ryan said the jobs of the future would be in the digital economy and children needed to be confident and comfortable in the use of technology.
"Broadband of this capacity and quality will allow them to see and learn things in school that my generation could have only dreamed of," he said.
"I believe the provision of 100-megabit broadband will transform education in Ireland and place our children at the forefront of the digital revolution.
But the Irish National Teachers Organisation (INTO) accused Mr Ryan of "building castles in the air".
INTO general secretary Sheila Nunan said: "Just as there is no point in building a house without sound foundations, there is no point in starting modern broadband investment at second level.
"Most primary schools have only domestic broadband connectivity," Ms Nunan said. "This is completely inadequate for schools to use computers for delivering the primary school curriculum."
She said it completely undermined the Department of Education's plan to put teaching laptops into classrooms, which began last year.
Ms Nunan said giving computers to schools without the broadband to connect them was like having a car with no petrol.
INTO also said that if second-level schools remained the Government's priority it would be more than 20 years before primary schools got this sort of connectivity.
The union said that more than two years ago the minister promised to deliver high-speed broadband to every second-level school in the country and yesterday's announcement meant that since July 2008, 10pc of second-level schools had been connected.
Fine Gael communications spokesman Leo Varadkar said the minister should not forget primary schools -- many of which had slow access to the internet, or no access at all, particularly in rural areas.
More than half of schools, 2,158, are connected to the internet via fixed line DSL, while 935 rely on satellite and 760 have a wireless connection. There are 56 schools still awaiting installation and 65 have declined a broadband service from the Department of Education.