November 2012
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Skolelinux pilot in Rhineland Palatinate – Lessons learned

Last FrOSCon, Kurt Gramlich, leader of the German part of the Skolelinux project,  gave a brief overview on the Skolelinux pilot in Rhineland Palatinate. What happened after the first euphoria and listed reasons why the pilot may be considered a failure.

It was a very entertaining and informative talk. I learned quite a bit and absorbed a tiny fraction of Kurt’s experience. I tried to condense what I got out of it in just a few bullet points from the “lessons learned” part to share with FSFE’s edu-team and now also with you!

  • the deployment of a FS system in a school is not the victory, it’s the beginning
  • Politicians don’t go by ideals, they want to see numbers
  • at the beginning of the pilot project in RLP, the activists were not aware of the internal quarrels and factionalism within and between the ministries (many decisions were more influenced by the quarrels than by reason)
  • decision makers were often not aware that they had the power to make a decision and were constantly checking back with their superiors who acted often the same way
  • if the training of the teachers is mandated from above, the process is very slow and expensive – due to bureaucracy
  • Teachers mentality. Contrary to the spirit of FS, teachers usually feel awkward if someone has a deeper insight in their work. They are trained to find mistakes in pupils works and afraid someone could find theirs.
  • Some stakeholders joined the pilot project because it was an easy way for them to earn money, but they never had the intention to actively contribute to the project.
  • The mechanism of the pilot project was such: There was a pot of money to spend for it. If a school wanted some of the money, they had to install Skolelinux and sign up with one of the “certified” support companies. Some schools had been running Debian-Installations maintained by one or two teachers for years. After the director decided to join the project, they had to “downgrade” to Skolelinux and worse: the motivated teachers who had been maintaining a FS system in their school had to surrender their root access and hand it over to the support company. This didn’t have the best effect on their motivation.
  • one core component in skolelinux, webmin, was kicked out of the official Debian system during the project phase and they had to spend a lot of resources to implement a replacement package.

Kurt’s conclusion: a bottom-up approach is much easier and more likely to succeed than a top-down approach where people are told what to do. Seems like it has something to do with freedom after all. Speaking of which:

He also mentioned a less surprising, but remarkable finding about the different ways to “sell” the Free Software solution (“no license costs” vs. “freedom”):

  • Schools that told their staff and pupils: “If we had money, we’d use MS Windows…” didn’t participate: no bug reports, no patches, no comments.
  • Schools that pointed out the aspect of freedom in Free Software submitted excellent bug reports and patches and they learned a lot (both: teachers and students).

Well, that’s already it. I’d love to link to the recording for those who understand German, but it is not available yet. Some talks of last FrOSCon have been online for a while, but unfortunately, Kurt’s is none of them. Depending on when you read this, you may want to check again if this has changed.

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10 comments to Skolelinux pilot in Rhineland Palatinate – Lessons learned

  • Marcus Moeller

    Great summary, thanks.

    I would really welcome a change in our educational system (and not only there) that highlights the positive things instead of blaming failures.

  • Bottom-up approach should be balanced with top-down approach. Each kind of approach has its own limits, and it is our due to balance them and get the best as we can from the sinergy of both.

    Thanks for the report. Reading it I don’t think it is a failure, is gained experience on some aspects.

  • I see I could be asking at the wrong place, but what’s the point of installing free software in schools if schools don’t have control over it, but some private companies do instead?

  • @Marko: As I understood it, the companies only agree to provide support if they know that nobody else is able to mess with the system.

  • …we had a similar initiative called “Menta” here in .hr
    …the idea is to put school educational standard inside of a localised ubuntu based distro, not too heavy for older comuters..:

    “Menta” Live DVD – use in teaching (workshops for teachers) – Silvia Kolaric and Vinko Prelac

    Sense of the “Menta’s” first steps to facilitate teachers in the use of open source software in teaching. We thoroughly analyzed the curriculum of informatics and select the most suitable software for its implementation. We have created a live distribution based on Ubuntu operating system, which is equipped with all the necessary software for the successful implementation of computer science to the prescribed curriculum and program.
    We know that it is crucial for all teachers to demonstrate the benefits and ease of use of open source software, so the majority of activities in the implementation of projects aimed at informing Mint teachers.
    At the workshop we will create several curriculum topics using exclusive distribution Mint, and the corresponding software. Since the formatting of text, making prezantacija and spreadsheets with OpenOffice already quite well known, we will be less well known areas such as sound design, paintings, film and web site programming and use of open source software in teaching other subjects – mathematics, chemistry, geography and history.

    Silvia Kolarić
    BMath (computing), a professor of mathematics and computer science, both graduated from the Faculty of Science – Department of Mathematics, Zagreb
    She currently works as a science teacher.
    2 comments to “Mint Live DVD – use in teaching (workshops for teachers) – Silvia Kolaric and Vinko Prelac”

    drGspot says:
    16.06.2010. at 16:38


    I see you managed to …

    I just disagree classroom for a subset OpenEcdl …
    We could call it … MiniOpenEcdl

    when I start with the course, it would be interesting to discuss stronger and reintroduction instigaciji about open source ECDL in public Hr …


  • @Guido: My concern is not under what conditions companies agree to make profit in the project, but the point of schools not having control over their machines. In other words, it seems to me that someone in the project got the idea of free software completely wrong from the very beginning.

  • Free Software is about _some_ freedoms, not all.

    When I choose to use Free Software on my systems, then I decide who can do what on those systems – that applies to a school administration too – i.e. not only on a personal level.

    Free Software gives me that freedom to decide such access rights – unlike a Windows, Mac or Google system where I must allow the distributor access. I typically do allow Debian access to my systems, but that is by choice, and the rich environments of distributions derived from Debian – most notable Ubuntu – demonstrates how some make different choices there :-)

    Concretely about the Skolelinux Rheinland-Pfalz project, it was a project across multiple schools, sponsored by the municipalities of that region. Skolelinux is quite useful for single schools wanting to run in on their own as well – but that would be a quite different project from this one.

    I was involved in the Skolelinux-RLP project, and benefit from my learning back then in a current project to deploy Debian inside the European Parliament:

  • @Jonas thanks for your comment and all the best for DebianParl! In this context, I also want to point to



  • [...] oder das traurige Beispiel des ehemaligen Leuchtturmprojektes „Auswärtiges Amt“ oder auch Skolelinux in Rheinland-Pfalz.  Oft sind es nicht die Entscheider, sondern die IT-Abteilungen, die sich einer Migration entgegen [...]

  • [...] Guido: Skolelinux pilot in Rhineland Palatinate – Lessons learned [...]