'We are still working off candles and smoke’ signals'

Photo shows, Scoil Mhuire NS, Loughegar.

The internet connection at a Westmeath school is so poor that the system crashes when more than one student tries to go online at the same time.

Newly released data on the broadband speeds at Ireland's primary schools has revealed that despite being only five kilometres outside Mullingar, Scoil Mhuire National School in Loughegar is one of the least connected in the country.

The government has set a target of providing downloading speeds of 30 megabytes per second (Mbps) as part of its national broadband strategy.

However, according to the Department of Education's data released following a Freedom of Information request, almost 60% of primary schools fail to meet this target.

The report states that the national school in Loughegar has a download speed of 4Mbps.

Speaking to the Westmeath Examiner this week, the school's principal, Niall Brennan, said that the internet connection is even worse than what is being reported.

“They tell us that we have 4Mbps, but we know we have 2Mbps some of the time and most of time we have only 1Mbps.

“We are a school of 211 children. We depend on the internet to access aspects of our core curriculum but that kind of speed just doesn't work. We invested in a new set of iPads but when more than one iPad is being used the system crashes.”

With each year more resources are being provided online by educational publishers.

In order for their students to be able to access these important resources, teachers have to download them at home before bringing them into school. However, this isn't always possible, Mr Brennan says.

“The department have offered us USB sticks to download materials at home while other lesson have to be abandoned.

The department have sent out a number of private operators to try and solve the school's broadband problems, but none have been able to find a solution.

Frustratingly, a high speed broadband line was recently installed just outside the schools ground's but Mr Brennan was informed that it wouldn't be possible to get a connection off the line.

Until the school is provided with an internet connection that is fit for purpose, Mr Brennan says that the students and staff will remain on the wrong side of the digital divide.

“It's the equivalent of the 1946 of the roll out of the rural electricity scheme and in that regard we are still working off candles and smoke signals.”

“Everything else is in place. We are very well resourced, we just lack a decent broadband connection.”

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