The Minister for Education and Skills, Jan O’Sullivan TD today launched the second year of ‘Digital Schools of Distinction’ and highlighted ambitious plans to grow the number of schools participating in the flagship award programme which promotes, recognises and encourages best practice use of technology in primary schools.

The programme is supported by HP Ireland and Microsoft Ireland who have confirmed that they will support the programme with €200,000 in funding for its second year.

More than one in three Irish primary schools – a total of 1,100 schools – signed up to become ‘Digital Schools of Distinction’, in the first full school year of the programme. The programme aims to sign up a further 750 schools during this academic year.

137 schools have already been awarded Digital School of Distinction status and it is expected that a further 300 schools will be awarded during this academic year. Plans are also in place to expand the programme into Northern Ireland and the UK in 2015.

Primary schools who achieve Digital Schools of Distinction status this year will receive a range of ICT supports, including free printing for a year via a HP OfficeJet Pro printer and a monthly printing allowance of 250 colour pages and 2,500 black and white pages; Microsoft software and educational apps as well as technical support and access to education ICT specialists.

In a survey of 300 Irish primary schools who have registered to take part in the programme, access to high speed broadband, IT maintenance, support and funding were identified as the major obstacles to integrating ICT in the classroom.

Speaking in Limerick at Scoil Íosagáin which today became the first new Digital School of Distinction to be awarded in this academic year, Minister for Education and Skills Jan O’Sullivan T.D. said: “The Digital Schools of Distinction programme has been a huge success in its first year and I am delighted to see that the number of schools registering and receiving their accreditation is continuing to increase steadily. The programme supports the advancement of the ICT agenda in the classroom and is making a practical contribution to helping schools make the most of their digital capabilities. It also supports the objectives of the government’s Digital Strategy for Schools which will be finalised in the coming months.”

Principal Patrick Hanley, Scoil Íosagáin said: “Our focus is on the continued integration of ICT in the classroom, to enhance our curriculum and benefit the pupils. Supported by the Digital Schools of the Distinction programme, our pupils are given the opportunities to become familiar with a range of technologies and to develop the skills to use them in a meaningful way that cultivates their independence, problem solving, communications and collaboration abilities. It is a great honour for our school to become a Digital School of Distinction and we are looking forward to the benefits and opportunities it will undoubtedly bring us.”

Martin Murphy, Managing Director of HP Ireland said: “We are very pleased to continue our support for the Digital Schools of Distinction programme this year. With more than one third of Irish primary schools now registered, it is clear that there is a tremendous appetite amongst educators at primary level to make the most of their schools’ digital capabilities and that the programme is a providing much needed practical support and assistance in this regard. The success of the programme to date is a clear indication that Digital Schools of Distinction is driving ambitious targets to support schools to be best in class when it comes to the use of technology in teaching and learning at primary level.”

Cathriona Hallahan, Managing Director, Microsoft Ireland added: “As the economy shows clear signs of a return to growth it is more important than ever that we in industry do what we can to help equip young people with digital skills so that they can participate fully in the economy of the future. From basic IT literacy all the way up to coding – these are increasingly becoming basic requirements for young people to engage fully in society and later in the economy. We are delighted with the success of this programme to date and with the fact that it is helping keeping the issue of digital skills and IT access on the agenda while at a practical level helping to raise the awareness and skills amongst teachers and pupils throughout the country.”