Open Source Education: Progress of Free Software in Russian Schools

Not much has been heard after a loud announcement last autumn that Russia is going to migrate its secondary education to a Free Software operating system developed locally. There have been many announcements of this kind in past, and only few of them eventually led to some worthwhile results. For example, China’s Jiangsu deployment of Linux in secondary education was deemed to be the largest in history, but the feedback gained from it was so poor (only few messages were posted in the online forum that was taken down eventually) that there is almost no doubt as to the outcome of this project. It could have played its role, however, in trading China’s deal with Microsoft that now allows students in China to legally buy Windows+Office bundles for only $3.

And what about Russia? Maybe the school project is just another example of someone’s ungrounded ambitions and poorly made estimates? It may be too early to say for sure, but there is already some evidence that the project will not remain unfruitful.First of all, first deliverables have already become available. Openly and publicly (Russian). Among others, you are able to download the specially tailored Linux distributions, including a version tailored for older PCs with 128-256 MB of RAM and P-233-class CPUs and a Terminal Server edition that allows to use older PCs as thin terminals provided a decent server is available in the classroom.Secondly, the information is now coming from more than one source, which indicates that the regional participants of the project have both freedom and willingness to act (Perm, Tomsk, Moscow, all in Russian). The most curious is the website of the Perm region, where a map of the integration progress is available. The numbers in black correspond to the total amount of schools (first number is for city/town schools, second is for rural schools), the numbers in red correspond to the schools where Free Software is already being used.

And what do the teachers say? The forum threads devoted to FOSS usage in schools are numerous, and are thus hard to summarize. Those of the teachers who are FOSS proponents are enthusiastic, and they try to reaffirm their position by pointing to the work that is being done by the Armada consortium and ALT Linux in particular as its most visible participant. The attitude of their colleagues varies from reserved support to skepticism, which sometimes comes from their inability to make computer peripherals work properly under Linux, and sometimes from the belief that the Microsoft monopoly is unbreakable.

Are these skeptics wrong? We will see by the end of 2008.

Technorati Tags: open source education, ALT Linux, Armada Consortium