[Fsfe-ie] Free Software for Schools - Urgent

Aidan Delaney adelaney at cs.may.ie
Mon Apr 19 13:20:04 CEST 2004

Hey all,
I'm in Spain so I can't do this.  But I have a bit of experience with
regard to primary schools.  My thoughts here are specifically to do with
Free Software technology, and not just why the philosophy is good for
schools, so consider these as specific cases in which FS is good for
Irish primary schools.
	* Price is not a factor (until later) as MS have a new licencing scheme
for "refurbished" PC's
	* Compatibility is a factor:  Given an average room (In my experience)
in a school, it contains machines of different generations (Pentium I
all the way to Pentium 4).  GNU/Linux and FreeBSD are the only operating
systems that will run on all the machines.  Win98 will to a certain
	* Upgrading.  This is where the difference with Win98 is.  You are
guaranteed to have a modern operating system on all your machines for
the foreseeable future.
	* Quality: Free Software is produced and supported by the FOSS
community and companies such as I.B.M. and Sun Microsystems.  OpenOffice
is used in industry and accepted as a quality product.  MS even state
that it has the features of Office 98 (which they think is a bad thing
	* Control: Spamassassin can be modified to scan email such that it
picks up on swear words used by students.  I only ever use email
internally in a school due to SPAM.  Furthermore, Squid can be modified
to give (what I call) a virtual internet.  Pages that the students are
allowed to see (previously "downloaded" by staff [cached really]) are
the only pages available on the "internet".  This offers more control
than content filtering.
	* Price is a factor when you start talking about email and webservers
etc...  Even with educational discounts, proprietary solutions are
	* Language support:  Tá GNU/Linux le fáil as Gaeilge.  GNU/Linux is
available in Irish (My Irish is rusty though).
	* Ease of integration: Free Software can be integrated into a current
school environment (assuming running Windows) via OpenOffice.  If a
separate server (as opposed to the Windows domain/file server, if there
is one) can easily be set up to provide email only.  Thunderbird is a
good Free Software email client for Windows. 
	* Homogenity: Students in schools I have set up get their own desktop
every time they log in on any machine.  No crappy icons on the desktop
installed by other users.  Thus they are provided with a consistent
environment over which _they alone_ are masters.  Because the
environment is consistent they tend to pick up the principles of
computing a lot easier.

I wish to elaborate on the previous point.  Assume there exists a room
with 2 machines and a student (called Tux) is allowed access to both. 
If the machines run Windows (the main GNU/Linux competitor in schools)
Tux can log into both and write and save files.  There are two scenarios
	1) all files are saved to Desktop/My Documents folder etc...
	2) all files are saved to a Network drive
In case (1) _all_ files (Tuxs, Aidans, Bernadettes, Ciarans...etc) are
saved to the same place.  When Tux moves to the other computer, or
returns to the same computer He/she can be confused by the absence or
presence of his/her or other files.

In case (2) one has to explain the complicated operation of the
client-server model to 7 year olds, before they can use computers.  I've
tried it, and it didn't work :)

I feel it is very important for students to control their own
environment.  With Free Software products we can give them control of
their own environment (with little admin overhead) but control the
larger environment ourselves.  I have found this to be very empowering
for students.

If anyone wants further explanation on _any_ point, just ask.

PS: I can give all this in a written presentation before Thursday. 
Geography alone makes it impossible for me to give an oral presentation.
Aidan Delaney 	email: adelaney at cs.may.ie
		web:   http://www.cs.may.ie/~adelaney
		gpg:   http://www.cs.may.ie/~adelaney/public_key.asc
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