​AMRES: Connecting schools in Serbia

In 2003 the World Summit on the Information Society (WSIS) acknowledged the importance of schools connectivity, and adopted a plan of action calling governments “to connect universities, colleges, secondary schools and primary schools with ICTs”. Since then, there has been an upward trend of connected schools to R&E networks. The latest GÉANT Compendium data for 2016 indicated that primary and secondary schools represent the largest segment (65%) and that, as of 2016, 33 NRENs connect schools to their network and five NRENs connect more than 90% of all primary schools in their countries.1

Strong growth in connected users

Connecting schools to the AMRES network has always been part of their founding idea and connectivity for some schools has already been provided. In 2016 this project started to connect all primary and secondary schools to AMRES. At the end of 2017, the project has been extremely su​ccessful, and at the time of writing there are 1700 schools now connected representing almost 95% of all primary and secondary schools. The rest of schools will be connected next year. The number of all users that connect to AMRES network has grown from a few hundred to 1.2 million today.

If we look at how schools are connected to the AMRES network, we see that 10% are using dark fibre (including 1G optic cables to gymnasiums) and 85% are using DSL with a speed of 20Mb. The remainder are connected via mobile network, especially schools in rural and mountainous areas of Serbia. This shows how AMRES is able to adjust to different conditions and locations of each school and provide various options.

Initially all primary and secondary schools will be connected to the AMRES network with the speed currently available and then to continually increase the speed when needed. In addition, AMRES has upgraded its connectivity to GÉANT to 20Gbs in June this year to cater for the expected increased needs of the network.

Organisational impact

Changes to the team structure and their scope of work was one of the key points in the whole process of connecting schools. AMRES operates an IT Support Centre for the schools which runs on a two shift system covering the daytime until 8pm local time and monitoring the connectivity and the links to schools. These days the IT Support Centre is busy because of the amount of queries related to set-up and changes requested by schools. In addition, AMRES runs four main Service Centres in Belgrade, Novi Sad, Niš and Kragujevac. These service centres are located at the universities and also act as service centres for the rest of the AMRES network. To cater for the increased work load, additional staff was hired. Also a Technical Project Manager has been recruited for AMRES to oversee the entire project.

Within the schools, there is rarely any dedicated IT staff. That means that in many cases AMRES provides additional support on how to connect to the network.

The higher number of schools connected to the network also had a significant impact on the growth of the administrative work, the number of contracts to be signed and paperwork in general. Moreover, it was necessary for AMRES to adopt new policies, set up new processes and provide relevant training to the external and internal staff so that it can enable connectivity and services with the support of the government and respective ministries.

E-education and Wi-Fi for schools

Taking on the role as connectivity provider for all Serbian schools, AMRES is further participating in two pilot projects: E-education and Wi-Fi for schools. These projects are leveraging experience gained as a connectivity provider.

  • ​E-education: AMRES provides the technical infrastructure for a newly tested Software for the School Information Systems (to provide information such as online class attendance, test results, reporting for parents). This pilot is run by the Ministry of Education, Science and Technological Development and currently 100 schools are participating in this pilot with plans to increase the total number to 200 schools by the end of the year.
  • Wi-Fi for schools: this relates to rolling out wireless networks in about 40 schools. The pilot is limited to provide Wi-Fi access to teachers in the first instance. Also BYOD (Bring Your Own Device) scenarios are being tested to enable Wi-Fi access to more users and a wider community.

Both pilot projects target different schools with different technical set ups. This allows AMRES to assess the most suitable infrastructure set up providing for example insight whether symmetric links are sufficient or fibre would be required to provide such services to all schools.

eduroam is one of the services that is in the planning phase to be rolled out to schools. Currently technical feasibility is being assessed with an initial limitation to access for teachers only. In the future, there is a plan to broaden the authentication process so that not only teachers but also students will be able to connect to eduroam.​

Bridging the digital divide

Thanks to connecting to the AMRES network, schools located in distant rural areas, small towns and also cities are now able to connect with users from other countries. Students and teachers connected to AMRES are able to access a high-speed and resilient network, share their knowledge and learn with other users from the community using the latest standards and services.

AMRES puts a huge amount of work into this project of connecting schools in Serbia. Within one year this NREN managed to connect almost all primary and secondary schools in their country to their network including the provision of a service desk.

The newly signed contract with Serbian Ministry of Culture and Information for connecting cultural institutions shows that AMRES is a trustworthy and valuable partner who is contributing extensively to the research and education community.

1. Compendium 2016 https://compendium.GEANT.org/reports/nrens_services