Education Minister Peter Weir has outlined the significant investment of £7million that has been provided this year to support remote learning.
The Minister welcomed that to date, up to 24,000 devices have been made available to support pupils to engage with remote learning, with up to 10,000 further devices being purchased for learners as a matter of urgency. This includes the provision of laptops for vulnerable and disadvantaged learners.
The Minister said: “We are fortunate in Northern Ireland that schools have access to a centrally provided IT system – C2K. This has supported online access to school services from the beginning of the COVID-19 school closures.
“Undoubtedly, face-to-face learning is the optimal approach for children and young people. However, as a system, we are now significantly better prepared and equipped to deliver remote learning than we were last March.
“Additional funding has been provided to the Education Authority (EA) to continue to improve services available, including a number of additional learning applications and upgraded bandwidth.
“I welcome that almost £7million of funding has been provided to date to support remote learning during the current financial year.”
- £2.4 million to support the expansion of bandwidth in particularly low bandwidth areas, and also for the procurement of additional learning applications to support remote learning;
- £2.2 million for the purchase of 8,000 Chromebooks for disadvantaged or vulnerable learners;
- £2 million for laptops for the primary school refresh programme; and
- £0.2 million for 8,000 WIFI vouchers for disadvantaged or vulnerable learners.
The Minister’s update comes as schools move to providing remote education due to the current public health situation. Primary and post-primary pupils, except for vulnerable children and the children of key workers, will learn remotely until the February half-term.
Peter Weir added: “Since the initial period of school closures, an estimated 12,000 devices owned by schools were identified as available for lending to pupils.
“A further 3,664 new laptops that had been purchased as part of the primary school refresh programme were repurposed and loaned out to learners. In addition 8,000 further devices were purchased and made available to schools based on pupil need.”
Concluding, the Minister said: “I am committed to continue to do all I can to support those who need access to technology that supports their learning at this time.”