the Mis-Edubuntu of Linux Systems
You’re familiar with the concept of the Global South and the Global North, right?
The One Laptop per Child association develops a low-cost laptop—the “XO Laptop”—to revolutionize how we educate the world’s children. Our mission is “to provide educational opportunities for the world’s poorest children by providing each child with a rugged, low-cost, low-power, connected laptop with content and software designed for collaborative, joyful, self-empowered learning.”
The basic idea is that folks in the Global North with financial resources buy a computer for like €100, which is twice the actual cost of the lappy itself, and then they simultaneously send one computer to the buyer and one to a school kid in the Global South. Pretty neat. The lappies are outfitted with open source software (I think it comes with an operating system called “sugar” though you can install ubuntu or something else that works well for grown up computation/ wordprocessing. This is where the use of technology, the educational potential for networked computers, economic justice & opportunity, and projects around open source software all come together. The point being that this fusion needs to succeed.
Because I think Lazerjock is making a good point here, while the technological workings of Open sourceland are above my head I am just going to repost the entirety of the Why We Need Edubuntu to Succeed blog.
A little tech-talk for the true geeks.
This evening I had a great chat with a guy named David. He’s a 9th grade science teacher in Minnesota. He’s working on a project called Growing Communities Of Scientists in his school. He plans to use a set of “computer enabled science classrooms” which embed thin clients into a student group workspace. David’s also got a great blog where he’s been journalling his experience. This means students have access to computers without interfering with they’re normal learning/social area. A common sight I’ve seen in most computer labs is individual students with hardly any working space and fairly isolated from each other and the instructor. It’s sort of like a cubicle effect. For sciences were you’re trying to get a lot of hands on instruction it’s rather difficult.
So, back to Edubuntu. While David’s been working on the hardware of his computer enabled science classroom he’s also been working on getting LTSP set up along with Ubuntu/Edubuntu software he needs to manage his classroom and teach his students. He’s run up against a problem that is fairly common to educators but is pretty difficult to work with on Linux systems. Simply, he needs to control access to applications. He wants to implement a rewards system where students gain computer privileges (getting to use Firefox, etc.) based on being responsible with current privileges. One of the things that’s great about Linux OSes is that you can install software system-wide and is supposed to be multi-user friendly. However, in this case, that freedom is a problem. I’d love to hear some suggestions on how to accomplish an application whitelist system in Ubuntu.
OK, but back to the title, why we need Edubuntu to succeed. The reason I say that is that Ubuntu and Linux/FLOSS in general needs advocates on behalf of students, educators, and the next wave of technolgy users. People generally tend to stick with the OS they first learn so one of the best ways to make Linux maintstream is to get it into schools.
The problem is that most software development in FLOSS is not centered around education. There are education-specific applications out there (Sugar, gcompris, KDE Edu) for sure, but the OS itself is not always education-friendly. I’ve seen a lot of educators trying to deploy LTSP servers in their schools struggle with applications that don’t behave well with multiple users, even common ones like Firefox and OpenOffice.org. On top of that key needs such as practical user and group management for educators is almost non-existent.
In many ways, one of the primary jobs of Edubuntu is to provide an advocate for educators and students to Ubuntu and upstream software developers. It’s not just about a making a way to install Ubuntu educational software easier, it’s about it’s about listening to educational user’s needs and trying to make some of those dreams reality. If Ubuntu can’t be “Linux for learning human beings” I’m not sure it can really make it mainstream. I’ll go out on a limb and say, as we start 2009, forget the “Year of the Linux Desktop” and look towards the “Year of Linux in Education”