Information Age Puts Ennis Schools in Debt

By Gordon Deegn

The Clare Champion, Friday, September 25th, 1998

On the first anniversary of Tennis winning Telecom Eireann’s Information Age Town competition , it has emerged that a number of local schools are in severe debt because of the high cost of accommodating the hundreds of personal computers made available by Telecom Eireann.

As part of the £15 million project, a total of 470 multimedia PCs have been installed in local schools. But three of the schools have been forced to relocate students in newly built prefabs to enable the conversion of existing classrooms to computer laboratories.

At Scoil Chiost Ri, the Ennis National School and the Christian Brothers Primary School, where there was no existing space, the schools have had to spend an estimated £60,000 in total “from their own budgets” in accommodating the PCs.

School principal of Scoil Chriost Ri, Mr. Pat Hanrahan said this week: “There seems to have been a lack of communication between Telecom Eireann and the Department of Education at the outset of the project. The PCs were allocated to the schools but there was no funding to facilitate them”.

Like his colleagues at Ennis’ other primary schools, principal of Ennis National school, Mr. Garry Stack has been forced to raise funds without any Department of Education support to accommodate the 53 PCs that his school has received from Telecom Eireann.

An exasperated Mr. Stack said this week: “The cost of accommodating PCs is equivalent to roughly two thirds of the school’s total annual capitation grant of £30,000 through the construction of a prefab and converting an existing classroom. The school is in debt as a result. The Department’s input has been nil; we have been left out on our own to provide the infrastructure”.

Mr. Stack revealed the town’s twelve principals have already written to the Department seeking funding, but to no avail. He said: “ It is soul-destroying. The Department has ignored the whole project. We are told that there is no money in the Department ‘s 1998 budget, but that they will be reviewing the situation. Telecom has spent over £1 million in providing PCs and the Department is refusing to provide a fraction of that cost to finance a pilot scheme and contribute towards the cost of new school buildings. It is hard to believe”.

School principal of the Christian Brothers primary school, Br. de Roiste said this week: “We have had to spend £19,000 to accommodate the PCs and it is frustrating to spend that huge amount of money in the context of the school’s five year plan. There has been no interest, no funding and no backing from the Department. We have been left to sink or swim”.

Br. de Roiste commented that the current situation could have been avoided “if there had been better forethought and preplanning with the school’s involved from the point of finances”.

Mr. Hanrahan warned: “Unless funding is made available to the schools from the Department, a number of Boards of Management in the town will be in debt for years as a result”.

Commenting on the Information Age Town experience for Ennis schools, Mr. Hanrahan said: “In many ways, it has been traumatic for the schools; classes have been moved, the costs incurred have been large and there has been additional work for staff who have been very flexible and innovative with no particular reward”.

However, like other principals, Mr. Hanrahan stated that there is great enthusiasm among teaching staff and among students to take advantage of the opportunity afforded by the PCs. He said: “There is now a strong connection for students between the home and school through the home PCs and the school PCs where students are using the computers as a learning resource. The teachers are very anxious that the children will benefit”.

However, he added that there needs to be a coordinated approach among the schools and the department of education or else a huge opportunity will slip by. He said “Ennis’ schools need to be part of a pilot project, where a proposed programme for computer education can be put in place and the various elements can be tested. Then the successful parts can be applied elsewhere. Otherwise, a whole lot won’t be achieved”.

A Department of Education spokesman said this week that the building implications of the allocation of the PCs to Ennis schools are being assessed in the context of the IT2000 programme by the Educational Research Centre and the National Centre for Technology. The spokesman could not specify a date on which a decision will be made.

In regard to Ennis becoming a pilot project, the spokesman said that extensive discussions have already taken place with Ennis school representatives and the National Centre for Technology with a view to developing a pilot programme.

Vehemently denying that there was a lack of communication between the parties involved, a spokesperson for Telecom Eireann said this week that Telecom drew up a plan with individual schools on all the relevant issues regarding the installation of the PCs. She said: “A large number of meetings were held between the schools, Department of Education representatives and Telecom where all issues in connection with the installation of PCs were discussed”. She added: “I have no hesitation in saying that, in regard to the Information Age schools project, we have done absolutely everything in our power in accommodating all the individual needs of all the schools concerned”.

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