Edubuntu to the Rescue of Underfunded Chilean Schools!

Okay, reading a couple of articles (web archive) –that mention the implementation of Gnu-Linux as a low cost saviour to an underfunded school with low processing powered computers within Chile’s under funded school system– really sets me off into a barrel of laughs.

You see, I spent a semester teaching a university English literature class to fourth year education students (in the winter of 2006 in a private university, in southern Chile). We covered several books, including Lessig’s Free Culture and Stallman’s Essays. Topics such as proprietary vs. Open and Free developmental models, basic architectural concepts, copyleft vs. copyright and associated costs and benefits of each model, democratization of the access to information and software technology, cost of updates/upgrades and security in both closed and “open” models were covered. We also touched upon school-wide implementation of free of cost software (imagine the cost of licensing several labs or a thirty floor tower with dozens of computers on each floor with poorly funded budgets, despite “low cost” package deals).

Not only did I provide this material to challenge their English comprehension skills –which should have been advanced at this stage of their education– but to illustrate the underpinnings of a phenomenological social reality, that contemporary software can run on antiquated hardware, and –last but not least– I provided the material so they could “start to imagine” the potentially unlimited pedagogical possibilities of “free of cost” (as it usually is so to install) software –especially in poor environments such as in Chile, adding marketable skills and complementing their skill-set, not to mention that analyzing copyleft vs. copyright and the varying creative models involved might be useful for teachers in motivating students and evaluating student work.

In the end, they didn’t “get it”. Despite that we never stepped into a lab, they repeatedly complained about being forced to take a computer course … as if I were forcing them to do problem solving requiring math skills, write algorithms, flow charts, programming in a low level language (or even a high level one), and compiling and debugging it all. Given the students, maybe a lullaby, Snow White, or beauty/make-up tips from female fashion magazines would have made better subject material. I seem to recall, part of the resistance was from the thought of learning non-familiar (non-Mircosoft?) terminology and philosophy.

The other complaint followed this train of thought, “We don’t want to know anything about the social make-up behind an obscure operating system. We simply want to use an operating system (and not an obscure one at that)”. Obscure? Not so, considering that most servers use Gnu/Linux (including at least one on-campus lab), I told them. Did they not want to learn about the social movement that lead to the creation of a freely available OS, and one that is not from Microsoft? I assume as much. Isn’t a university a place to learn? And by learning don’t we mean to learn “new things”? You don’t go over the same things in university that you covered in high school or elementary, do you? I guess this depends on the “university”. One might still hold out hope that the future will bring about change.

Perhaps being put to work in rural schools with aging hardware and being subject to underfunding so as to limit the purchasing of newer hardware and software will force this change, if they can manage it. Or maybe they will never get it. “Clueless” is the term. Perhaps, what we need are enlightened leaders (higher up the “corporate ladder”) to take decisions and the herd to do what comes natural, follow. Thankfully, it seems that’s what’s happened here with the implementation of Gnu/Linux into this Chilean school. I wish this project the best of luck.

Maurice Cepeda

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