Pounds 10m Internet deal serves up a paradox

IRELAND. Every primary and secondary school in Ireland is to get free connection to the Internet and free usage of it up to a certain level, courtesy of Telecom Eireann, the state telecommunications service.

The Pounds 10 million package also provides for assistance for schools in disadvantaged areas to purchase computers. A central service will be created to offer specialised information to schools and a Council for Technology in Education will be established. In-service training will be made available.

The deal was announced by the country's newest and youngest education minister 37-year-old Michael Martin, who had been very critical of his predecessor, Niamh Bhreathnach, for not being more enthusiastic about the use of Information and Communications Technologies (ICTs) in education.

There is a certain paradox in the delay in officially embracing ICTs in primary and secondary schools, as Ireland is the European base for major players in the computer and electronics fields who are attracted by the calibre of its graduates.

So successful has been the campaign to woo them that a shortage of qualified people is emerging, and the government has had to provide funds to create extra higher education places in key skill areas this year. At least one firm is threatening to sue the state's industrial development agencies because the promised workers were not available.

The importance of the Telecom deal was underlined by the attendance at the news conference by the minister for public enterprise, Mary O'Rourke, and by the Taoiseach (prime minister), Bertie Ahern, who said: "We must now make sure that every school-leaver in this country has computer literacy as a basic skill. "

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