[LINK] Linux for Schools Project Interview
Thu, 4 Oct 2001 11:27:10 +1000 (EST)
Here's an interesting OLinux interview with Phil Jones of the UK based
Linux for Schools Project (http://www.lfsp.org/).
Linux For School Project: More schools should adopt this idea!
Por: Marcos Martins Manh„es
OLinux: Who did came up with the LFSP idea? Who are the people behind
Phil Jones: I started the project. I first got into Linux because I
heard it was free and IBM were doing support for it. The project began
because I was fascinated by the multiuser capabilities of Linux.
Coming from Windows I found it amazing that a single Linux machine can
support multiple interactive user sessions at the same time. I wanted
to prove to myself and others that it works. I thought a school would
be a good place to test in. I met Nigel Paul of St John's School
at the London Linux User Group and he invited me to his school.
OLinux: What were de main ideas in the begining?
Phil Jones: The main idea was to provide a Linux account for 80
pupils. We set this up on an otherwise obsolete P166 computer which
lives on the school's internal network. We have given each pupil a
personal web page, MySQL database, telnet access, email with Pine and
network chat with 'talk'. The purpose is to teach HTML and publishing
web pages, PHP and MySQL, remote access with telnet, Unix commands,
simple Telnet based email, email etiquette and network chat. The chat
part is just for fun, but we use that to show that a single machine
can be accessed remotely and support many users at the same time.
OLinux: Tell us a bit more about the softwares developed for this
project. Who is responsible for the development of the LFSP packages
Phil Jones: The software packages are Createusers, Gethelp, Mysqlquota
and Web User Interface. The first three are my own work and the last
one is adapted from Emmanuel Pierre's program .
Createusers adds users in bulk. Gethelp provides a quick reference of
simple Unix commands in telnet sessions. Mysqlquota allows the size of
user's MySQL databases to be controlled using Linux quota. Web User
Interface is a CGI script that lists all user home pages.
I developed them with a little help from the Unix hackers at my
previous employer, Three Valleys Water and the London Linux User
OLinux: What are the advantages of using Linux in an educational lab?
Phil Jones: Control. Freedom. Stability. Security. Lower costs. Better
performance. Great support from Linux-using education community. An
escape from the upgrade trap. No licence hassles. And a brilliant way
to make otherwise obsolete computers useful again; see the Linux
Terminal Server Project for more about this.
OLinux: In your opinion, what are the main obstacles to get Linux
inside the schools? What do you think about the benefits of the open
Phil Jones: Unfamiliarity, compatibility and the time/effort needed
are the main obstacles. Linux is a 'rawer' computing experience that
requires learning. The rewards are there, of course. Compability with
Microsoft Word is a problem because that program's everywhere. In so
many schools they're just trying to keep what they've got working and
there's no time or resources for trying out something new.
There's also a (wrong) perception that schools have to give children
what they'll find in the workplace. Children can easily adapt from one
platform to another. Also by the time they get out of school it'll all
have changed anyway. If my school had that idea then they would have
trained me at twelve to be expert on Word Perfect 4.1 for DOS. There's
no need to worry about it. Trust in kids' adaptability.
The open code is a massive benefit because it gives back power to the
users. In what other system is everything open to inspection? Where
else do users have the option to fix things they don't like?
OLinux: How old are the kids in this project? Puting the kids in
contact with Linux since they are realy young can possibly estimulate
the use of Linux at home?
Phil Jones: They are under 13. Ten years old is a good time to start.
At home, children will have whatever computer they're supposed to have
to play games on. Some geek kids may get into Linux so some
familiarity from school is going to help there.
OLinux: IBM is investing a large amount of money in Universities at
developed coutries like USA and Canada. On the other hand, Microsoft
is parcialy opening the code of its softwares for Universities at
sub-developed countries such Brazil. In your opinion, what's the
diference between these two strategies?
Phil Jones: I don't really know. I suppose IBM is doing whatever they
think is appropriate for them in the country in which they're working.
It must be bad to feel left out, if that's what you're thinking.
However much IBM invests in Brazil, they must be hoping they will do
well out of it in the end, so good luck to them.
OLinux: Can you tell us how many scholls are using the LFSP packages?
Phil Jones: No. I know of two, that's it. I don't know how many times
the packages have been downloaded, let alone whether they are being
OLinux: What's been doing to propagate the LFSP to the rest of the
Phil Jones: It's on Freshmeat and there have been a couple of
articles about it. Some online, and in print. There's an article
at Linux User which mentions me and St John's School. Wired has
also got an article. I was offered an interview by The Times
Educational Supplement, of London, which I missed, unfortunately. I've
been asked a few questions by Silicon.com for a forthcoming article.
Finally yourselves have kindly offered me this online interview so
thanks for that.
OLinux: How can people help to improve this iniciative?
Phil Jones: Make Createusers support LDAP. The lightweight directory
access protocol looks like the future for large-scale Unix account
management. What's needed is a quick and easy way to set up LDAP and
add lots of users to it. I don't know how to do that yet, in fact I
don't know anything about LDAP.
Get schools to teach HTML in class. Every school should at least have
one machine, with Linux, that has everyone's in-school home page on
it. No, Frontpage does not count, they should learn the code. Learning
to code, with syntax, and structure, is important.
Get schools to teach at least one programming language. The language
should be able to do graphics and sound, ideally. It's fascinating to
take control of the machine and make it do exactly what you say.
Things like loops, variables and subroutines teach logical thinking.
Everyone can learn a little. Oh, and maybe have schools teach some
database skills as well.
OLinux: Here in Brazil, the Ferderal Government bought 200 thousand
PCs for the public educacional sistem. This machines were bought with
public money. Unfortunatly they pic Windows to run on this PCs and
completly excluded Free Software. What do you think about this
decision (We, the brazilian citzens, are realy apset)?
Phil Jones: At $US40 each that'd make the United States US$8,000,000
richer. Just for the operating system. I don't know if it's $US40 each
but it's probably something like that. To put it in perspective that's
enough money to buy one quarter of a new F-16 fighter plane. I think
it's money unnecessarily spent but I could imagine there has been some
high level politics going on. Funny I thought Brazil was going to
choose Linux for its schools.
I think the real cost will be raising children used to computers
without proper programming tools normally installed and readily
available. That means programming won't be in the school day, which
means building one's own software won't be playground stuff, which
means fewer adult Brazilian programmers one day, which means less
freedom for Brazil to help itself, which may cost Brazil dear I guess.