April 23, 2019

From the Desktop: E Stands For Education

Linux in the Schools

  • October 24, 2000
  • By Brian Proffitt

This week I am going to take a different tack--let's go for activism, starting with one of those open letters that readers like to read and my editors cringe to see. I'll resume my focus on the X window managers next week with a look at another E: Enlightenment.

Dear Linux Community...

I'll be blunt.

Quicher bellyaching and let's get off our collective butts and start fixing what's wrong with computer education in this world (or at least in the United States)!

Instead of using this bass-ackwards halfway approach to computer education that's leaving our kids completely unprepared for the real world and basically placing them in servitude to the Microsoft platforms, let's start using all of our technical wizardry to give kids the real stuff.

The seed for this idea started a couple of weeks ago, when I volunteered to help move some furniture donated to my daughter's school. During the course of this strenuous and back-breaking work (I'm a writer, not a weightlifter!), the discussion came around to recruiting me for the school's technology committee, since they seemed to think I knew something about computers.

Several of my readers might disagree with this assessment, but who am I to argue with this notion, particularly since I am too winded to do anything but nod my head? Thus I joined the school's technology committee.

A little background: this year my daughter started attending a small private school in the process of building a new building a few miles away. The tech committee is working with the building architects and a very limited budget to set up the technology for the new facility. This is everything, by the way: phones, networks, servers, clients--the whole shebang.

After I caught my breath several hours later, I began to dedicate a few synapses to this problem of low budget and technology--a problem that many schools, public or private, seem to grapple with all the time. I did not know what or if the rest of the committee was thinking, but I began to wonder if one good way to save money would be to install Linux on the PCs in this new building.

The more I thought about it, the more excited I became. After all, why did the platform have to Windows or Mac OS? Linux could accomplish all of the same things that an educational platform needed. Mentally, I ran down that little checklist Linux users carry in their heads to anticipate arguments about our beloved platform.

Argument #1: Linux isn't compatible with anything. And a Mac is? Please! If compatibility is what you want, look no further than StarOffice. Heck, it'll even save things in XyWrite format! Students can have a full-fledged office suite compatible with anything they have at home. We've got PDF readers, very capable browsers--the whole gamut of software that'll run most things a student needs.

Argument #2: Linux does not have educational software. Okay, they might have us there, because Reader Rabbit for Linux and similar apps are not out yet. I have two counters to that. The first is WINE. If the Linux community really works to get WINE more stable on Linux boxes, that should take care of the immediate needs of running specialized children's software.

The second answer to #2 is more market-driven: if educational institutions turn to Linux, then I guarantee existing education developers will start writing to where the audience is. A little boost from the existing Linux companies won't hurt in this regard, but I'll get to this point later.

Argument #3: Linux is too hard to use. For who? If we're talking about the student, listen: a Linux box running KDE or Gnome is not going to throw off any kid over the age of four any more than Windows will. If we're talking about school system admins who have to set this stuff up and maintain it, I will concede there is a real knowledge gap for MS admins to jump to get to be Linux admins.

That's where we come in.

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