People still doubt my claims that GNU/Linux and FLOSS thrives in education but my experience in the bush in northern Canada is not unique. It is happening everywhere.
“It has been more than 12 years since our school districtâ€™s first web gradebook project. Today, open source solutions are trusted in all corners of our schools. Every student, staff member and teacher in our district is routinely empowered by remarkable software such as Koha, LAMP, LibreOffice, Moodle, Scratch, SipXecs and WordPress. In addition, my team is currently spearheading a large-scale high school student 1:1 laptop-learning program running open source software exclusively. I continue to be amazed by what can be accomplished via open source software in education.”
FLOSS works in education. The low cost of replicating solutions, the performance, the flexibility the licensing offers and the openness of it all is a perfect match for getting the best from enthusiastic young students, teachers of various ages and the hardware. There is no better way to create, find, modify and distribute information in schools than to use Free/Libre Open Source software. As soon as you find one “You may not…” in a licence for non-Free software you can see why FLOSS works so well for schools. Schools are only limited by their imaginations, not some “marketing plan”.
I recommend Debian GNU/Linux for schools. It will work on any hardware. It will allow any number of PCs and servers to get along. It will permit using client and server PCs interchangeably. Heck, it will allow any number of users to run on the best machine in the building simultaneously. That last trick is my favourite configuration: hordes of small cheap computers getting all the heavy lifting done by a few powerful servers with abundant resources. Think of it. Serving hundreds of simultaneous users only requires pampering and upgrading a few machines, not the whole network. Think PCs lasting a decade with no loss in performance. Think everyone getting the performance of the newest machine in the building all the time. Think huge databases. Think local interactive web sites. Think.
Examples of the software that is available with a few clicks in Debian GNU/Linux:
- all the usual kinds of applications for client PCs: office suites, graphics creation and modification, multimedia stuff, browsing, searching, sorting, real-time information…
- web-servers with Apache, MySQL, PHP giving access to fully indexed local documents, databases (MySQL, PostgreSQL etc.), wikis (like Wikimedia), blogs like WordPress, student information management, course management…
- databases – whether one want to keep track of every document in the building, everyone’s contact information, grades, biographies, images, multimedia files, stuff… or inventories, databases are the way to go. Moderately skilled users can set up their own databases very quickly using FLOSS so no one has to reinvent the wheel. Every collection of information ever made by anyone in the school can be called up to make plans, publications, estimates, exams, reports,… There’s no limit to what a school can do because the licence says you can run, examine, modify and distribute the software without any further paperwork. A school can have any number of databases of any complexity with no further costs as long as it will fit on the servers.
- Search engines – Know Google? Imagine having that kind of power over information on the local area network or even a whole school division. It’s trivial with FLOSS. Just set up your own search engine and index the resources of any number of servers. The result is amazing. Students can find books, multimedia and documents in seconds rather than hours with dead-tree files. Don’t know of any search engines? Debian has a bunch: xapian, sphinxsearch, lucene, namazu2, Swish-e, doodle, recoll, Swish-e and others for desktop PCs and servers. As well, the databases have search capability.
- Security – Can’t handle the power of hundreds of students roaming freely with their PCs? Add firewalls, word-filters, blacklists, whitelists etc. to put reasonable limits on what they can do. Best of all, keep students busy and they won’t get into trouble. Malware? Very little of it is aimed at GNU/Linux and FLOSS so you don’t have to burden every machine in the building with anti-virus software.
Get the picture? The only thing that’s certain with FLOSS is that if there is a problem, a solution can be found, often within seconds. Because of the licensing, schools can implement FLOSS very quickly and with minimal costs. One school I converted to FLOSS was considering how to spend $100K on IT. They had a couple of scenarios:
- 153 PCs with that other OS and nothing else, not even a network or
- 153 PCs, a gigabit/s network, dozens of printers, and a handful of servers, cameras and scanners with GNU/Linux.
What do you think they chose? That solution is still working well for them 7 years later.