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Why 'Yet Another Linux Educational Distribution'?

There are many educational Linux distros. No need to mention them, you might know them or you can find them when you search for the use of Linux in education.
The other day we received an email from a professor in education who suggested us to seek contact with the 'big' Linux educational distros to collaborate. Here is what we wrote back (names of distros removed):

Maybe we are arrogant; in our opinion it's the other way around. It would be an idea if distro X and distro Y would seek contact with us. Of course this blunt reaction asks for an explanation.

First of all, we are rather familiar with distro X and distro Y, have tried them and love them.
The problem we face with these and other educational Linux distributions is that they are, simply said, a normal Linux distro with educational applications added to it. The distros are a gathering of otherwise available applications like Tuxpaint, OOo, Audacity, GIMP and many others. The list can be quite long.

Notwithstanding the good sides of these distros, they do not do anything to solve main concerns in a primary school environment. These problems can be summarized in "no money, no time, no knowledge".

Our distro solves primary school ICT problems that have nothing to do with educational software. There is an abundance of that stuff around, mixed quality in our humble opinion, and our distro contains not one of it. We think a school should make an informed decision on which software to use, depending on their pedagogical views, eudcational policy, etcetera. These considerations can lead to completely different software choices than distro X or distro Y offer. No distro can solve this issue.

Here are a few problems these distros do not deal with:

  • fine grained user and application management,
  • handle the complicated relations between all the groups that exist in a school; classes, faculty, staff, parents, committees, etcetera (i.e. workgroup management),
  • Mass import of pupils, moving pupils every year to a next grade, managing the repeaters, managing alumni, etcetea,
  • efficient handling of CDs that are used (or mistreated),
  • installing (often complicated) educational software,
  • several backup systems for various needs,
  • dealing with printers in a school environment,
  • and much more ...
The list is endless; pleaase take a look at the feature list to get an insight of the possibilities.

The tools to manage the above mentioned tasks are much more complicated to design than adding educational software to standard distro X or distro Y.
Most primary schools in the world cannot pay a sysadmin, not even part-time. Complicated tools, like user management, have to be designed in a way that solves the 'no knowledge, no time' problem. The tools need good documentation, tailor made to the target audience. On which more below.

To underpin our assertion on distro X and distro Y even more; we received funds to develop ServerAtSchool for Linux clients (both thin and fat, planned for 2008). From ICT persons working in African primary education in rural areas we received support stating that ServerAtSchool could be the distro for Africa. They might well exaggerate, but we know how easy it is to add your educational software to our distro.

There is another issue that bothers us in distro X and distro Y. It's the quality of their documentation. In all modesty, when you take a peek at our documentation, you can see that it is an educational project in itself. The manuals can also be used as a learning book. We dare say that our documentation is better than distro Xs or distro Ys. When you know better written manuals for the target group we aim at, please let us know.

We do our simple job: both really involved in education and seeking solutions for an ICT environment that is n times more complicated than an average office.
The same goes for our CMS Site@School. There are hundreds of CMSs, but no one is designed with the problems of primary education upfront.

For more background information; maybe these links can give you better insight why it would be a good idea if Linux educational distros would seek contact with us:

  1. Dirks site
  2. educational background information on Site@School
  3. Site@School homepage
  4. [End of mail]

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