Linux in Italian Schools, Part 1

Following the gradual path Linux took at one school in Italy
What Next?

As of May 2005, Linux is being used at De Sterlich in four labs:

  • lab 62: about 24 PCs in dual-boot configurations (XP plus Linux Mandrake 10.1) for several tasks

  • lab 67: about 22 Linux-only PCs (Mandrake 10) to teach math, information technology and business economy

  • lab 94: 27 additional Linux-only PCs (Mandrake 10.1) for the same courses. In this lab, authentication is managed centrally through NIS; a migration to LDAP is scheduled for next year. Already, though, each student has his or her own desktop and private files always available with the same configuration from every computer in the lab.

  • lab102: used for word processing, this lab has 27 PCs running Red Hat 9. It also is expected to migrate to Mandrake 10.1 or 10.2, because in general, Mandrake has been found to be more user friendly than its predecessor.

Was It Worth It?

Linux is at De Sterlich to stay, even if some obstacles remain. Money-wise, the result so far has been quite different from what some teachers expected from reading the literature available when the project started. For example, in one of the labs it was indeed possible to save about 6,300 Euros on Microsoft licenses. At the same time, however, it also was necessary to buy 500 Euros worth of manuals and one boxed set of Red Hat 7.0 (150 Euros). To this must be added 2,000 Euros in consultant fees and 1,100 Euros for an 18-hour internal course for teachers to train them for the migration. Their conclusion is you do save money with Linux but less than you thought, because the costs and effort for the initial setup cannot be ignored. At the same time, the switch greatly increases productivity and reduces maintenance costs even more. Overall, the school is quite happy to have taken this path.

The most common obstacles still found by De Sterlich Linux fans are of a cultural nature--the simple fact that most computer users simply don't like change. Sometimes, even the interface differences between MS Office and OpenOffice.org are enough to stifle enthusiasm. Unfortunately, this problem is made worse by the objective fact that many school manuals "teach" word processing, databases or spreadsheets simply by listing which buttons should be pushed in their enclosed screenshots of MS Office, Access or Excel. If these manuals explicitly covered OpenOffice.org as well, probably much of the perceived difficulty would vanish.

Credits and Contact Information

It would be great for the teachers and students of De Sterlich to share experiences and work together with colleagues of other nations, be it on Harvey or any other Linux-in-Education project. To find out more, contact delromano@desterlich.ch.it Professor Paolo Del Romano. I'd also like to thank him and the school principal, Mr M. Salardi, for their assistance in writing this article.

Marco Fioretti is a hardware systems engineer interested in free software both as an EDA platform and, as the current leader of the RULE Project, as an efficient desktop. Marco lives with his family in Rome, Italy.

______________________

Articles about Digital Rights and more at http://stop.zona-m.net CV, talks and bio at http://mfioretti.com

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wrong link

Paolo Del Romano's picture

Fix the manuals!

Anonymous's picture

Unfortunately, this problem is made worse by the objective fact that many school manuals "teach" word processing, databases or spreadsheets simply by listing which buttons should be pushed in their enclosed screenshots of MS Office, Access or Excel. If these manuals explicitly covered OpenOffice.org as well, probably much of the perceived difficulty would vanish.

How about making a class project to create equivalent screen shots in OpenOffice.org and adding that as an addendum to the manuals?

Linux in my school

Massimo (an italian student)'s picture

In my school (Istituto Tecnico Industriale Statale "Antonio Pacinotti" in Rome), is only used SuSE Linux in one lab of electronic. In my labs there are only PC with XP or 2000 Professional :-(...but in my home I use Mandrake LE 2005.
The web site of my school (translated with Google because is only located in italian)is:
http://translate.google.com/translate?u=http%3A%2F%2Fwww.pacinottiroma.i...
(in italian are http://www.pacinottiroma.it)

RE: Linux in my school

Peter Strasiniuk's picture

In our school we make a summer special. we setup and config a suse linux as a web-server for the other group. the second group designed web-sites on the windows site... good project... a lot of fun with the students... fyi, cu, ps

What, no LTSP or NX?

Anonymous's picture

I'm very astonished to see that there seem to be single-PC setups in the various pools exclusively.
Especially with weak 32MB Pentium machines (are they still in use now?), going towards a server-based setup with LTSP or NoMachine access would probably make a LOT more sense than individual installations, which:
- have to be maintained separately (ok, imaging and NIS etc., so it doesn't have to be that problematic)
- have slow performance due to using the local CPU instead of the server via nicely compressed connections on a 100Mbps network

With LTSP, I imagine you just keep a number of spare machines around, if one machine goes down, then rip it out and replace it with the new one and that's it, maybe 10 minutes.

What is interesting about thi

Anonymous's picture

What is interesting about this story is that the people involved were not Linux experts, and they were successful anyway. An expert team might have used LTSP and some other fancy things, but this K.I.S.S. approach seems to have been appropriate for this school.

Linux in Italian Schools

Jim H's picture

My daughter is a Math major at the University of Padova in Italy and she has been using linux exclusively in her labs and homework.

The cost savings alone must be staggering when you consider not only what the school would spend, but also each student.

I can confirm that the majori

Matteo R's picture

I can confirm that the majority of University of Padova labs are equipped with Linux (RH), both in "dual boot" with WinXP and as "unique" OS.

Saving Money

Betsy W.'s picture

I indeed liked the part of "saving money" with Linux. The problem is, that Windows is used so often, that the teachers don't need a lot of training, when it comes to that product.

When I have this kind of challenges, I buy a book - not less than 1.000 pages - and work through this book from the beginning to the end.

THAT can save a lot of money 8-))))))))))))

Familiarity with Windows

Tadge's picture

I have to disagree with your comment about teachers being familiar with Windows saving money on training. I work with teachers to help them learn about things as simple as Microsoft Word and as complex as Adobe Premiere. The majority of teachers are only familiar with what they know, such as how to send an email using their own hotmail accounts, and basic typing in Word. Beyond this a lot of teachers, not all, are not tech savvy enough to do simple things such as cutting and pasting, let alone using some of the capabilities of an OS. I really think that no matter what OS you have in the school there is going to need to be support for teachers and always some complaints about the differences between what they are use to. Hopefully this will eventually be less true as teacher training improves, but I don't see that on the horizon anytime soon. (By the way this is just my observation:)

Saving Money

Jim H's picture

For the end user I don't think the differnce between windows and linux with a good window manager (i.e. Gnome, KDE, etc.) is that great.

re:Saving Money

norbert billen's picture

I agree - BUT and here comes a big BUT - People are used to Windows for a far too long time. I held trainings with common office-people in Germany. Hell - I can tell you - they are unflexible as a brick of stone 8-)

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