Highland schools get £70m learning network

A council in the Scottish Highlands has begun installing high capacity broadband links in all of its schools after striking a deal to ensure the same level of support for even its most remote sites.

A council in the Scottish Highlands has begun installing high capacity broadband links in all of its schools after striking a deal to ensure the same level of support for even its most remote sites.

Pupils at Crown Primary School in Inverness have become the first in the region to benefit from the council's seven-year, £70m investment in the MPLS (multi-protocol label switching) network.

The network is part of the Glow programme - formerly known as the Scottish Schools Digital Network - which it is hoped will improve access to teaching materials and learning applications for all educators and pupils in Scotland.

John Grieve, IS client manager at The Highland Council, said addressing the issue of access for remote sites was a priority to ensure that all schools were on an equal footing.

"We had to specify uniform repair times in our service level agreements to ensure that, in the event of a network failure, remote sites received the same levels of support as those in towns," he said.

This was also necessary so that school staff could not blame lack of support for any failure to use the system, said Grieve.

Highland Council is using network operator Thus to deliver the project. Over the next two years it will link 850 public buildings across the highlands and islands, including schools, libraries and council offices.

Grieve said the success of the project depended not just on the network roll-out going well, but on take-up among schools of the services on offer.

"The real challenge is to get teachers to adopt new teaching methods, rather than simply relying on 'chalk and talk'," he said.

"We aim to increase buy-in by providing comprehensive training for staff, but there already seems to be a groundswell of support for the features that the new network offers."

Training for technical staff is included as part of the deal with Thus. Schools and council departments have been charged with identifying staff who need to receive technical training as early as possible, as well as likely candidates to become technical mentors.

The installation of the network will require some schools, and possibly some homes, to update their current IT set-up to take advantage of the services, which include video and audio streaming. The network is also powerful enough to easily run resource-hungry applications such as Google Earth.

Further down the line, the network could host a single application for schools to handle administrative tasks such as budgeting, timetabling and recording attendance records.

Fibre links will be used to connect schools in towns, and Wimax connections will be used for sites in locations where fixed broadband links are unavailable.

Comment on this article: computer.weekly@rbi.co.uk


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