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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.