Schools expected to link to third level network


16 Feb 2004

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Selected primary and secondary schools have been connected to Ireland’s higher education network, HEAnet, in trials for a national schools network that’s integral to the Department of Education’s new policy for tackling the IT shortfall in classrooms.

Working in tandem with the new broadband for schools initiative (exclusively revealed on siliconrepublic.com), an announcement is expected shortly that could confirm HEAnet as the backbone provider for a national schools network. In the coming months the Department of Communications is expected to put out to tender the ‘last mile’, the broadband infrastructure that will connect the schools to the HEAnet fibre network.

HEAnet is effectively Ireland’s largest internet service provider, a national education and research network that delivers high speed internet services to students and staff in universities, Institutes of Technology and other educational and research organisations.

“The Department of Education and the HEA [Higher Education Authority] provide the funding for the backbone for higher education,” explains John Boland, chief executive at HEAnet, “so therefore it would seem logical to see if they could leverage some of that investment to provide some broadband for the schools as well.”

Boland would not, however, confirm that it was a done deal. “We’re in advanced discussions,” is all he would say. “We have been exploring it with the Department of Education for some time and in more recent times we’ve been talking in some detail.

“If schools can leverage infrastructure and some of our expertise and technical support then that’s fine,” he said, making it clear that it wouldn’t be HEAnet’s responsibility to provide a fully managed service to the schools. “The National Centre for Technology in education would be the helpdesk at the front line for all of that.”

He continued: “We’ve always been interested in this area. We see the synergy between schools and colleges and the fact that we provide education-dedicated networks. We have a backbone in place and connectivity to the general internet but also, more importantly to all the educational research networks of the world.”

Boland points out that the synergy was also identified by the EU member states back in the 1998 Lisbon Agreement. He says there is a major drive in the EU to ensure that all the national research networks look at providing services to schools.

By Ian Campbell