Wales politics

Welsh government pledges £39m for schools broadband

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Media captionArwyn Jones reports from a school in Penarth, Vale of Glamorgan

All schools will have access to faster broadband connections as a result of £39m from the Welsh government, First Minister Carwyn Jones said.

He said the money would "transform" learning and teaching, and would give all schools access to world-class broadband by next year.

Ministers said they acted after hearing about schools' experiences of coping with variable broadband speeds.

Opposition parties welcomed the money.

Councils will receive £27m of capital to upgrade internet connections for schools.

They will also be able to provide primary and special schools with £10,000 and secondary schools with £20,000 to buy better hardware.

It will mean a minimum speed of 100Mbps (megabits per second) for secondary schools and 10Mbps for primary and special schools by 2014, the Welsh government said.

Torfaen and Monmouthshire will not be included in the initial grants because they have already received what the Welsh government called "significant grant funding" for information technology.

The counties recently announced that 2,500 laptops, bought as part of a Welsh government project, would be given to pupils. The machines had previously been stuck in storage after a deal with another local authority fell through.

'Fast, consistent and reliable'

Last year the Welsh government launched an online platform called Hwb for schools across Wales to share material.

Ministers said the money for better broadband will establish a level playing field, meaning all pupils have access to the Hwb service.

Mr Jones compared the importance of broadband to the importance of the railways in the 19th century.

"If you were far away from a railway you were economically isolated, so broadband is exceptionally important for Wales," he said.

"We want Wales to be a world leader in digital learning, therefore we need to be able to offer our schools fast, consistent and reliable broadband services

"This investment will ensure that, by 2014, primary and secondary schools in Wales will have access to safe and secure world-class broadband services needed to deliver a world-class digital education."

Conservatives education spokesperson Angela Burns said that funding schools directly, instead of through local authorities, would cut red tape and mean more money to spend on equipment.

"In our more deprived communities pupils are less likely to have computers at home, so access to computers with fast broadband at school is even more important in improving IT literacy," she said.

But Education Minister Leighton Andrews said: "Schools across Wales have told us of the difficulties they have experienced in accessing online resources due to varying degrees of broadband connectivity.

"This is even more frustrating considering that many schools have the plans, equipment and enthusiasm to offer a high standard of digital education to their pupils."

Plaid Cymru education spokesman Simon Thomas said: "Wales badly needs investment in our digital future and investing the provision of broadband in schools will help ensure that our young people will be equipped with the skills that are necessary to make the future Welsh workforce a global competitor."

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