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Linux in British Schools

By James "Badger" Bajgar

Technology has changed dramatically over the last few years in terms of computers and their hardware/software, but how has it changed in school and education?

Let's look at one secondary school in the UK. This school used to complete GCSE and A-level work on 386s until just about 2 years ago when they managed to upgrade to brand new PCs, and since then get new PCs quite regularly. So they will now have well over 150 PC's for around 1500 pupils (including 6th form), although some schools would find it hard to get enough for just one class with around 30 pupils.

These systems are good too. They are in working condition by a on-site technician. The specs are good, especially as they are mainly used for teaching the basics to younger pupils. By the time they are doing GCSE/A-level work, it is not necessary for a very high spec as most of the work by then is simple office work, especially a lot of word processing, even so they have some very fast systems.

All these computers are networked, so any pupil can log on and then get their previously-saved documents on any computer in the school. This also prevents pupils from messing about with the BIOS and control panel settings, etc., since they each have a individual name witch can be traced.

But what is at the centre of all this? Well since Windows is seen by many people as easier to get to grips with, that would seem a good choice. But Linux Versions are now just about as easy--they no longer require large amounts of knowledge. Then, since these computers are all networked, Linux would be a good option. Also, what is the whole point of education?- to get qualifications for a job. It is thought Linux is fast becoming more popular (if not already) than Windows, and more and more computers in businesses run Linux, so people going into any area of business would benefit from the experience of Linux. Also, it has good networking features, and is more customisable, also by many people it is thought to be more stable to run than its competitors. Not forgetting the difference in price: you can pick up a full 6-CD version of SuSE Linux 6 for 30 (or less if you know someone who has it already), and make money out of it! Compared to possibly hundreds of pounds for competitors' networking OS's.

Therefore, this school runs Linux Red Hat or SuSE, right? WRONG! It runs Windows! I ask this question to the British government: how are the pupils supposed to survive in the 'big world' of computing nowadays if they don't have at least the opportunity to experience at least the basics of another graphical OS such as Red Hat or SuSE Linux. OK, it is easy to get to grips with Linux, but nowadays potential employers won't look at you twice unless you've experienced it, so what are you supposed to do--lie???

So isn't it about time that the government make new guidelines as to how GCSE and A level are obtained, and allow the support of multi-operating system knowledge? This would also help show the full possibilities of Linux and open sourcing in general. Let's not forget the government money saved by using open-source software instead of the usual software. The benefits are obvious: no more expensive site software licences!

This would also generate more interest in open-sourcing among the younger generations. Also showing that the government and local authorities aren't biased just because they want to collect more TAX, but would support the cheaper software, even though they wouldn't get as much for themselves. But they wouldn't need as much, either, since they would no longer have to spend as much resources investigating software piracy!!!

Copyright © 2001, James "Badger" Bajgar.
Copying license
Published in Issue 62 of Linux Gazette, February 2001

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