Students in a rural area of Co Tyrone have been having to leave their homes to get a broadband connection strong enough to upload school work, a Stormont committee has heard.
Schools have been closed for a second extended period amid efforts to curb the coronavirus pandemic, with lessons having to instead be delivered remotely.
Stormont’s Education Committee received a briefing from teachers on how remote learning is being delivered.
This crisis has hit our schools with immense forcePrimary school teacher Nicole O'Connor
They were told of a project set up by teachers called BlendED NI, which was initially set up in 2019.
Karen Irwin, a teacher at Ballyclare Primary School who is involved with BlendED NI, said that, in May 2020, they turned their focus to helping colleagues grappling with remote learning.
An initial aim to support 20 teachers “within hours” saw 700 express an interest.
They run sessions in the evenings, alongside their day jobs in schools, to train teachers.
Nicole O’Connor, a teacher at St Comgall’s Primary School in Bangor, said more than 6,500 teachers have attended BlendEd sessions so far.
“Teachers are attending our sessions after long and intense days of remote teaching whilst also supporting home learning for their own families and living through a pandemic like us all,” she told MLAs.
“This crisis has hit our schools with immense force.”
She said that, while some schools are ahead of the curve when it comes to technology, others do not have the same ICT resources.
“We would love to see a device rolled out to every learner in Northern Ireland equipped with age-appropriate learning tools, and of course this needs to be supported with the appropriate wifi provision to make this meaningful,” she told MLAs.
Alistair Hamill, a teacher from Lurgan College, said if young people do not have access to fit-for-purpose technology and broadband connectivity, then “everything else, no matter how good it is, won’t happen”.
Louise Kerr, a teacher at St Joseph’s College in Coalisland, said many of her students experience issues with wifi, with some reliant on the 4G connection on their mobile phones.
“Around Coalisland, it is very, very patchy – a lot of our students would rely on 4G or very intermittent broadband,” she said.
“We have had occasions where students have had to actually go to other people’s houses or local hubs where they can sit in their car to upload work.
“To be fair, that was mainly in the last lockdown, but I’m sure those people have just found workarounds.”