[Fsf-friends] [email@example.com: [Life] Taking the Penguin to the classroom (Goa)]
Fri, 2 Aug 2002 18:26:13 +0530
----- Forwarded message from Frederick Noronha <firstname.lastname@example.org> -----
>From nagarjun Fri Aug 2 10:31:42 2002
Delivery-date: Fri, 02 Aug 2002 10:31:42 +0530
cc: Animesh N Nerurkar <email@example.com>
From: Frederick Noronha <firstname.lastname@example.org>
List-Id: A Mailing List for Free Software Solutions for Education <life.mm.hbcse.tifr.res.in>
Subject: [Life] Taking the Penguin to the classroom (Goa)
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This is a draft article that Animesh and myself are working on... it
kindof explains the approach in Goa. FN
---------- Forwarded message ----------
GNU/LINUX IN OVERDRIVE... TAKING THE PENGUIN TO THE CLASSROOM
By Animesh Nerulkar & Frederick Noronha
GOA MADE it to the news some months back, as a group of volunteers attempted
to take GNU/Linux to the classroom. Fighting pessimism, a heavily
Microsoft-loaded syllabus and a daunting task coupled with the ever-looming
difficulty of getting volunteers, the project has moved on.
Silently and away from the headlines, a small group has struggled to snatch
victory from the jaws of defeat. Will things work? It's still too chancey to
But, clearly some indicators and pointers are emerging already.
If Linux is going to reach the school classroom, the success or failure of
such a project would probably depend on:
* acceptance of Linux by teachers and students
* availability of Linux support, when needed
* ability to get earlier-generation hardware to work with suitable
versions of Linux.
Goasudharop's Goa Schools Computers Project (GSCP), a network of expat Goans
inspired by concerns about spreading computer education emerging from back
home, shipped in a containerfull of some 280 once-used computers from New
York. GNU/Linux hass been installed on a number of these.
Some 150 schools inGoa benefited from this handout, with 20 of these schools
recieving LTSP networks, using the Linux Terminal Server Project software.
On behalf of Linux Goa (Goa chapter of the India Linux User Group) local
software engineer Arvind Yadav and automobile engineering student Animesh
Nerurkar put together a single-CD version Linux, based on Red Hat 7.2.
The goal of this was that it would make an install of GNU/Linux easier and
faster; standardise the installation, so that problems when they arose could
be more-easily identified and tackled; and match the available hardware
(Pentiums) with the software.
RedHat 7.2 was selected over other versions as the base for this custom CD
mainly due to its built-in support for the ext3 file system -- seen as being
more hardy to withstand the powerfailures and abrupt shutdowns that school
usage could imply. Besides, this was also the latest version of linux
released at that time.
To make the installation and maintenance work easier, Arvind and Animesh
point out that they worked on creating a standard Linux installation. Kind
of stick-the-CD-in-and-it-works thing.
This CD was used to deploy GNU/Linux in most of these schools in Goa and
another "few hundred" in Nepal. Schools in the distant mountainous kingdom
had also requested and deployed the same with help from Linux-Goa's
volunteer Tom Fernandes, of German-Goan descent, who has been working with
GNU/Linux extensively in Goa over the past months.
Tom traveled all the way across by train and bus to help out, in the
backdrop of a Maoist insurgency in that politically-troubled country and
amidst unpredictable traffic dislocations and many-day general strikes.
This custom schools CD also evoked interest among those promoting the use of
GNU/Linux in some of Kerala's schools.
As the custom built CD was intended for use in schools, it was planned as a
solution to the anticipated needs of these schoools and their curriculae,
rather than as just another package of goodies.
Besides, at the back of everyone's mind was the level of expertise of the
average volunteer -- not all of us are in the same league as Alan Cox, after
all. Some amount of standardisation was also prefered to ensure ease of
voluntary support to these schools in the eventuality that another volunteer
might have to work out a solution to a computer which he or she (yes, there
are a few committed women volunteers too!) didn't do the initial setup for.
It was also expected to adequately provide the needs of GNU/Linux related
self learning for the school staff.
Of course, installation and configuration of GNU/Linux software is a
time-consuming job. Each installation, on each PC, takes the good part of an
(One needs to note here however that a Windows install usually 'fixes' only
the Operating System. In the case of Linux, one normally gets not just the
OS but virtual tonnes of office applications, Net tools, a few games,
engineering applications -- if you choose them -- and a whole lot of
software to do virtually everything you could do with a computer).
There are two special catagories of installation in the new menu --
Workstation, for stand alone systems, and LTSP-Server, for a network server.
For each of these installation catagories, a custom disk-partioning scheme
was customised while the original Redhat scheme were rejected as it did
not by default meet the hardware requirements of the PCs being installed in
the schools which, expectedly, were not the latest available in the market.
The time zone selections were set to default to "Calcutta/India". Such small
efforts were aimed at ensuring that the installation setups were easier for
the person finally doing it.
As most machines are restricted to some 32 MB RAM and 1.2 GB hard disks.
those working on the project were left with no option but to ruthlessly
eliminate any software package that was unessential.
As a result, some standard packages and apps from the original Red Hat 7.2
'distro' were dropped and some additional apps were added. The need for
dropping some of the original Red Hat collection was dictated by the
hardware resources of the machines that would use this, while the additional
software was meant to provide additional functionality and ensure the
availability of the complete, needed solution.
KDE, a resource hungry solution, was the single largest casualty along with
all QT-based apps.
Gnome, as the next most resource-hungry, would also have been put on the
chopping block were it not for the fact that atleast one, complete,
non-radical, userfriendly desktop was needed (atleast initially). This was
seen as necessary to avoid intimidating the school staff. Gnome was selected
over KDE as it was found to be a lot less resource hungry.
Windowmaker menus were customised and added on the CD with the intention
that at some point of time, the school staff and children wud migrate to a
lighter desktop such as this.
Some games were selectively included in the CD from the original Red Hat
package as these were known to enhance educational and entertainment value.
LTSP, the Linux Terminal Server Project, besides its documentation and a
vast collection of remote boot images were added. Browser Opera was added.
Some howtos had to be written to cover these changes and to aid in the
implementation of the project. Arvind coded shell scripts for this purpose.
To complete this excercise, two volunteer and one GSCP teachers training
programmes were held by Linux Goa. For the teachers training, theory
sessions were compulsary, practicals were optional.
Each teachers training programme lasted two days, four sessions per day, two
hours per session. In all, a total of eight sessions done. Tom Fernandes
and Animesh volunteered as instructors on behalf of Linux Goa, while Arvind
and Animesh helped with the volunteer training.
On most PCs, this single-CD install would work without causing much trouble
for even a newbie, believes Animesh. (Other Linux-Goa stalwarts like Goa
University professor Gurunandan Bhat cautions against building undue
expectations on this, saying, "Installs are tricky and often
unpredictable.") To demonstrate how it would work, our non-techie members
who have never done a single install in their life -- like one of the
co-authors of this article -- were called upon to face the test. They -- or
should one say the CD -- passed easily.
Tom Fernandes <email@example.com> suggests that another desktop manager
could be used (in lieu of Gnome). "Nautilius is damn slow (on the
Pentium-I's). It uses up 80% of the RAM," suggested Tom. Currently the
machines are being set up with Gnome as default.
Animesh raises some questions. He says: "How do we use computers to further
the cause of education, rather than just dump a set of hardware and software
in the hands of school-teachers?" He says while the attempt to implement a
Linux-in-education solution in Mexico is largely seen as having "failed", in
Portland-Oregaon a success story was reported.
This had also resulted in the LinuxForKids.com collection of software.
Others -- in places as far apart as Vietnam and Kolkata -- were interested
in looking at Goa's experiment with taking Linux to schools. Delhi has since
started an ambitious project, and is working itself to take GNU/Linux to
schools through the support of the local LUG (Linux Users Group).
Future plans in Goa include working out a more carfully planned schools
specific linux distro. There is also need for a carefully planned
engineering college specific Linux distro. Say volunteers: "Any one
interested is welcome to join in the effort, regardless of ur nationality,
geographical location, or such other considerations."
To conclude, here is some food for thought: People are neither trying to
learn computers, nor are they trying to use computers. They're simply trying
to get their work done. GNU/Linux will gain acceptance if it can help them
to get to that goal without too much difficulty. (ENDS)
Frederick Noronha * Freelance Journalist * Goa * India 832.409490 / 409783
BYTESFORALL www.bytesforall.org * GNU-LINUX http://linuxinindia.pitas.com
Email firstname.lastname@example.org * Mobile +9822 122436 (Goa) * Saligao Goa India
Writing with a difference... on what makes *the* difference
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