Linux in Education

by T. Sandoval, BigBearOmaha

This work can and will be used in local, personal and public situations for the purpose of educating users, volunteers and community partners involved with FBK, Freedom By Knowledge Linux computer community project. With this noted exception, it is subject to the same licensing as the rest of the content in PCLinuxOS Magazine.

Linux in the education system is something that has received quite a bit of media attention in the recent past and is getting more attention now.

Why though, is there so much attention on Linux in schools? Is it just about money? Is it about politics? Yes. Yes, and more. Linux in our schools is about much more than current funding policies or public posturing to appear "open".

Let's take a step back for a moment shall we? A step back into my history with computers in school. I went to a local high school. When I started there it had a big mainframe computer that filled a room about half the size of a standard classroom. There was a full size classroom next to it, separated by a half-glass wall that was filled with "dumb terminals" which were all attached to the mainframe. This was my introduction to computers. We learned languages like COBOL and Fortran. We played games and wrote small applications, which would now be called scripts.

We were lucky the following year. Some generous people helped the school system acquire, through a public program sponsored by Apple, many Apple II's and IIe's. We were in heaven! Some Apple Macs came our way that same year so we had a whole lab of computers, one of the few labs in the district. Our whole world became Apple.

As I moved into college, a newcomer called Microsoft Windows came onto the scene. It had quietly evolved all the way up to version 3.11 -- Windows for Workgroups -- and was becoming all the rage. Then came Windows 95 and Microsoft 'took off'. They pushed Apple right out of the school systems by using generous donations and discounts. By the time I was into my advanced classes, Windows 98 was the focus and the whole computing world only knew Windows.

I only point out this bit of my educational experience with computers to make an example. By targeted pressure to get into schools and impact young people in a learning environment, Microsoft has been able to "Windows-ize" two generations of computer users, from early education through college. Many students have experienced nothing but Microsoft products, and their computer use is geared toward, and entirely centered on, Microsoft Windows. Microsoft has literally created its own market of users, with the public's unknowing acquiescence.

Linux, with it's great stability, growing ease of use, and powerful and far reaching freedoms in use and usability, has come to a point where someone in the commercial market needs to step up and duplicate the "Microsoft" move into the school systems. With many school systems on tight budgets, and the public ever watchful of the spending habits of many school boards, lower licensing costs and reduced costs in roll out, along with the extended usable life of the hardware used, reasons not to consider Linux are becoming more difficult to find.

A company with the funding on the scale of a Novell, Red Hat or Ubuntu could pull off the switch of a lifetime. By using the media or special pricing on support and materials (i.e, disc's etc), a company could maneuver into the prime space on the desktop of students.

My thinking is that Ubuntu would be better poised to make this happen. They have the financial backing of a known philanthropist, while at the same time having the most experience at using the mass media to generate "buzz". There are community and small distributions that have the cut and polish of a commercial distribution, that, with the right impetus and backing, could fill the educational niche very well. One such exceptional distribution is PCLinuxOS.

The opportunity for Linux to take its turn in the schools is coming very quickly and it would be such a disappointment and a terrible waste to miss it. The chance to "build" Linux users and create a market that would grow with Linux is too exciting to miss, as well as necessary, and taking the big step into the public eye and schools should be a priority.

Next installment: What PCLinuxOS and its community can do for schools.