The Debian Edu / Skolelinux project consist of both newcomers and old timers, and this time I was able to get an interview with a newcomer in the project who showed up on the IRC channel a few weeks ago to let us know about his successful installation of Debian Edu Wheezy in his School. Say hello to Dominik George.
Who are you, and how do you spend your days?
I am a 23 year-old student from Germany who has spent half of his life with open source. In "real life", I am, as already mentioned, a student in the fields of Computer Science, Electrical Engineering, Information Technologies and Anglistics. Due to my (only partially voluntary) huge engagement in the open source world, these things are a bit vacant right now however.
I also have been working as a project teacher at a Gymasnium (public school) for various years now. I took up that work some time around 2005 when still attending that school myself and have continued it until today. I also had been running the (kind of very advanced) network of that school together with a team of very interested and talented students in the age of 11 to 15 years, who took the chance to learn a lot about open source and networking before I left the school to help building another school's informational education concept from scratch.
That said, one might see me as a kind of "glue" between school kids and the elderly of teachers as well as between the open source ecosystem and the (even more complex) educational ecosystem.
When I am not busy with open source or education, I like Geocaching and cycling.
How did you get in contact with the Skolelinux / Debian Edu project?
I think that happened some time around 2009 when I first attended FrOSCon and visited the project booth. I think I wasn't too interested back then because I used to have an attitude of disliking software that does too much stuff on its own. Maybe I was too inexperienced to realise the upsides of an "out-of-the-box" solution ;).
The first time I actively talked to Skolelinux people was at OpenRheinRuhr 2011 when the BiscuIT project, a home-grewn software used by my school for various really cool things from timetables and class contact lists to lunch ordering, student ID card printing and project elections first got to a stage where it could have been published. I asked the Skolelinux guys running the booth if the project were interested in it and gave a small demonstration, but there wasn't any real feedback and the guys seemed rather uninterested.
After I left the school where I developed the software, it got mostly lost, but I am now reimplementing it for my new school. I have reusability and compatibility in mind, and I hop there will be a new basis for contributing it to the Skolelinux project ;)!
What do you see as the advantages of Skolelinux / Debian Edu?
The most important advantage seems to be that it "just works". After overcoming some minor (but still very annoying) glitches in the installer, I got a fully functional, working school network, without the month-long hassle I experienced when setting all that up from scratch in earlier years. And above that, it rocked - I didn't have any real hardware at hand, because the school was just founded and has no money whatsoever, so I installed a combined server (main server, terminal services and workstation) in a VM on my personal notebook, bridging the LTSP network interface to the ethernet port, and then PXE-booted the Windows notebooks that were lying around from it. I could use 8 clients without any performance issues, by using a tiny little VM on a tiny little notebook. I think that's enough to say that it rocks!
Secondly, there are marketing reasons. Life's bad, and so no politician will ever permit a setup described as "Debian, an universal operating system, with some really cool educational tools" while they will be jsut fine with "Skolelinux, a single-purpose solution for your school network", even if both turn out to be the very same thing (yes, this is unfair towards the Skolelinux project, and must not be taken too seriously - you get the idea, anyway).
What do you see as the disadvantages of Skolelinux / Debian Edu?
I have not been involved with Skolelinux long enough to really answer this question in a fair way. Thus, please allow me to put it in other words: "What do you expect from Skolelinux to keep liking it?" I can list a few points about that:
- always strive to get all things integrated into Debian upstream
- be open to discussion about changes and the like, even with newcomers
- be helpful at being helpful ;)
I'm really sorry I cannot say much more about that :(!
Which free software do you use daily?
First of all, all software I use is free and open. I have abandoned all non-free software (except for firmware on my darned phone) this year.
I run Debian GNU/Linux on all PC systems I use. On that, I mostly run text tools. I use mksh as shell, jupp as very advanced text editor (I even got the developer to help me write a script/macro based full-featured student management software with the two), mcabber for XMPP and irssi for IRC. For that overly coloured world called the WWW, I use Iceweasel (Firefox). Oh, and mutt for e-mail.
However, while I am personally aware of the fact that text tools are more efficient and powerful than anything else, I also use (or at least operate) some tools that are suitable to bring open source to kids. One of these things is Jappix, which I already introduced to some kids even before they got aware of Facebook, making them see for themselves that they do not need Facebook now ;).
Which strategy do you believe is the right one to use to get schools to use free software?
Well, that's a two-sided thing. One side is what I believe, and one side is what I have experienced.
I believe that the right strategy is showing them the benefits. But that won't work out as long as the acceptance of free alternatives grows globally. What I mean is that if all the kids are almost forced to use Windows, Facebook, Skype, you name it at home, they will not see why they would want to use alternatives at school. I have seen students take seat in front of a fully-functional, modern Debian desktop that could do anything their Windows at home could do, and they jsut refused to use it because "Linux sucks". It is something that makes the council of our city spend around 600000 € to buy software - not including hardware, mind you - for operating school networks, and for installing a system that, as has been proved, does not work. For those of you readers who are good at maths, have you already found out how many lives could have been saved with that money if we had instead used it to bring education to parts of the world that need it? I have, and found it to be nothing less dramatic than plain criminal.
That said, the only feasible way appears to be the bottom up method. We have to bring free software to kids and parents. I have founded an association named Teckids here in Germany that does just that. We organise several events for kids and adolescents in the area of free and open source software, for example the FrogLabs, which share staff with Teckids and are the youth programme of the Free and Open Source Software Conference (FrOSCon). We do a lot more than most other conferences - this year, we first offered the FrogLabs as a holiday camp for kids aged 10 to 16. It was a huge success, with approx. 30 kids taking part and learning with and about free software through a whole weekend. All of us had a lot of fun, and the results were really exciting.
Apart from that, we are preparing a campaign that is supposed to bring the message of free alternatives to stuff kids use every day to them and their parents, e.g. the use of Jabber / Jappix instead of Facebook and Skype. To make that possible, we are planning to get together a team of clever kids who understand very well what their peers need and can bring it across to them. So we will have a peer-driven network of adolescents who teach each other and collect feedback from the community of minors. We then take that feedback and our own experience to work closely with open source projects, such as Skolelinux or Jappix, at improving their software in a way that makes it more and more attractive for the target group. At least I hope that we will have good cooperation with Skolelinux in the future ;)!
So in conclusion, what I believe is that, if it weren't for the world being so bad, it should be very clear to the political decision makers that the only way to go nowadays is free software for various reasons, but I have learnt that the only way that seems to work is bottom up.