Broadband projects Spark's global view
Scotland's new national intranet for schools was originally called SSDN - the Scottish Schools Digital Network. It didn't exactly trip off the tongue. Then along came the moniker Spark - not an acronym but welcome all the same because of the connotations of light, intelligence, electricity and inspiration. Whether Spark will possess all these qualities remains to be seen, but the signs are good.
The procurement of hardware to deliver broadband connectivity to local authorities is under way, and should be complete by July. This timetable will provide plenty of time for testing before the new school year begins.
The chosen solution in Scotland is to connect all the authorities into the backbone that currently provides UK-wide broadband to higher and further education institutions - JANET (the Joint Academic NETwork).
The extension of broadband into schools will then be the responsibility of the local authorities. Around half of Scotland's 32 authorities are expected to deliver broadband to schools within the next few years. That figure includes the eight authorities in the rural and remote regions identified as Pathfinder Areas, where the Scottish Executive has taken the innovative step of kick-starting broadband supply by aggregating public sector demand - "joined-up purchasing" across education, health and social services.
But there's a lot more to Spark than just hardware. "Once the JANET interconnects are in place we will go to the market to buy an Intranet - a set of services, tools and applications for pupils, teachers and managers," says the executive's broadband team leader John Connell.
"Learners will be able to work in a secure, managed online environment to access content, run simulations, track their learning, and collaborate with others - not just across Scotland but also in England, Australia, India, Canada. Anywhere there are learners and things to be learnt."