During the yearly conference ‘Free Software in Higher Education’ held by ALT Linux in Pereslavl in Russia last weekend, there were several interesting talks on the migration of schools to Free Software, which made me change previous views on the ways of migration of schools to Free Software.
It is no secret that teachers in schools all over Russia are now very concerned about the problem of software legalisation as a failure to do so may lead to criminal persecution. The case of Alexander Ponosov boosted the level of awareness dramatically. However, it takes more than fear to be able to move to Free Software after years of experience teaching on top of proprietary software on Windows. If the teachers do not start getting involved in promotion of Free Software, the country may end up paying more for proprietary software than ever while becoming progressively dependent on proprietary products.
What makes me feel more optimistic is that such positive view on Free Software (not just a refuge from proprietary software, but a better alternative) is now gaining momentum in Russia. And the process is developing on its own without any direct involvement of state or large enterprises.
On the community level, a dozen of teachers of Computer Literacy in small towns and villages of Tomsk region connect to each other via an irc channel to share experiences and methods of migration to Free Software. They install Free Software packages for Windows, test-drive and migrate to Linux distributions in their own schools and they spread the knowledge in neighboring schools. On the municipal level, a town of Dimitrovgrad sets an example of creation of a municipal educational network for schools built with Free Software. The town also promotes installation of the ALT Linux Junior distribution (which is the most probable platform of the planned country-wide migration) at schools and gathering of feedback.
Meanwhile, the Republic of Tatarstan is boasting to be the first to come up with the idea of creation of a tailored Linux distribution for educational purposes with localisation for Tatar language (previously unavailable on any platform) — before a similar initiative was launched on the federal level.
Thus, Free Software in Russian middle education seems to be possible as it has proven to be able to gain support on all levels: federal, regional and municipal/rural. What we need to achieve now is to help the positive examples of Kazan, Dimitrovgrad and Tomsk region replicate in other places. Second, we need to help the representatives of all the three levels get to know each other and cooperate with each other while staying aware about the experience of colleagues in the other regions.