Linux in Italian Schools, Part 1
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.
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.
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 email@example.com 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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