[Techtalk] improving computer usage in schools

Magni Onsoien magnio+lc-techtalk at pvv.ntnu.no
Mon Feb 17 11:02:18 EST 2003

On Wed, Feb 12, 2003 at 10:34:08PM -0800, Diggy Bell said:

> I've been doing some work with education applications and have come across a
> couple of very interesting uses for Linux in the school environment.
> First, there are two projects that you may want to look at:
> 1. http://www.schoolforge.net
> This looks to be an information resource for schools using Linux tools.
> 2. http://www.ltsp.org
> This is a Linux terminal server configuration that can use 486 and higher
> machines as X terminals into a server.

In Norway some people started developing Skolelinux (School Linux),
www.skolelinux.no in June 2001. It's a distribution based on Debian 
GNU/Linux, with three main goals:

1) Must fit on one CD
2) Easy to install
3) Simple interface for users and admins

In the end all IT teachers (it's usually a teacher's responsibility to
run a school's computers) should be able to download, install,
configure and admin a Skolelinux-system, and then teach teachers and
students how to use the system as a whole and how to use specific
software for education.

Until now the main focus has been on making the distribution - one CD,
easy install, and that is more or less finished now. The installer needs
quite a bit of polish, but if you have a server you want to dedicate, you
should get a three-choice-installation - type of install, language and
type of keyboard.

The next step it to write good documentation, both for installation,
configuration and administration, and for the use of the system
afterwards. The work on the more technical parts of this has come quite
far, while the more paedagogic parts started seriously just recently.
There are quite a few teachers in the project, so it should be possible
to find good educational software that a) fit the needs of the school
and b) can be used in stead of today's proprietary Windows eduware.

One of the main problems with computers in schools is that there is a
lack of paedagogics behind it. It's just "oh, a computer! Great, wee ned
that for education! And we need more of them!!" - there are very few
who have thought about WHY computers are used in education and what the
pupils should learn from it. And that a complicated software suite like
MS Office isn't reallt necessary for a 7 year old kid who thinks it's
funny to type (Notepad with a 24pt font may be more useful).

There are already several schools that have converted completely to
Skolelinux, and quite a few more are looking at it. For some it's an
economic question (like for a newly opened private school run by
parents in rural areas of Norway), for others mostly curiosity and for
others a combination of economy and having some Linux competence nearby.

Important differences between this and other similar projects: It's in
Norwegian, so Norwegian schools don't have to do any translation to make
it work (and it's in the two Norwegian written languages, and also
partly in Lapp Language, so the schools actually won't break the law by
using it (all pupils have the right to get educational material in their
own Norwegian language - nynorsk or bokmål)). It's on one CD. The
installation is very simple, and you can still choose whether you want a
server, a thin client or a workstation. It's under active development.
The selection of software is aimed at Norwegian curricula and teaching
methods (probably not too different from other countries; it means thast
teachers have been active in selecting software and in proposing
educational use for it).

It's also not just for Norwegians. It is under translation for
Northern-Lapp, used in Norway and Sweden, there are people from Latvia
working on it, I think some French are with and today I also heard of a
German initiative (www.skolelinux.de).

If anyone is interested, have a look at www.skolelinux.no
Much is in Norwegian, but there is also an English devel-list.

Magni :)
sash is very good for you.

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