SEMP for Teachers

Thanks to Red Hat and the Asian Development Bank funded Secondary Education Modernisation Project, we have embarked on a mission to bring Red Hat Linux to secondary schools throughout the nation.

Currently the project involves travelling to schools around the country that have SEMP sponsored Computer Learning Centers and teaching "Red Hat Linux there to teachers who are brought in from the surrounding areas. This plan was set up for us by the Ministry of Education, who are now showing a keen interest in FOSS and Linux. This is a great step forward in the use of Linux in the Sri Lankan educational system. Initially, the syllabus and the teaching methods were all proprietary software-oriented, with little or no mention being made of the alternatives available.

The response to this project has been overwhelmingly positive, with many teachers asking for a more in-depth knowledge, and a greatly expanded training program.

The problem with this program is that the scope of it is too small. Since we are teaching in only 28 centralised locations, we can only install Red Hat Linux in those 28 schools. If the schools have a fairly knowledgeable teacher, they can try to install Linux by themselves. Even the hardware providers have agreed to allow the schools to install Red Hat Linux in the computers without it affecting the maintenance agreements entered into by the schools. However, many schools do not have knowledgeable teachers, and we cannot teach them to install Linux in the short time frame that we are given. Even if we could, they are just one teacher out of many in the school. They may not have the ability to teach what we taught them. Without Linux installed in the school machines they would not have the opportunity and the enthusiasm to teach it. In the end, while the project would be a success, the result would be a failure.

We need to take the idea of Linux all the way to the ground level, visiting every school in the country that has a Computer Learning Center. We need to get not only the teachers, but also the students and the administrative staff of the schools interested in Linux and FOSS. For this we need a larger and more comprehensive project, with more scope, and more manpower. A longer time frame than the three months we have been allocated for this project, and a long term plan that involves a lot of community work.

This is how what started as a small project has grown into something much larger than was envisioned. With the success of the initial project behind us, we can now build upon it to advance the cause of FOSS in Sri Lanka. The project is called Project: Tux, and it is possibly one of the most ambitious attempts to promote Linux and FOSS in the world.

Sri Lanka has long been a test-bed for technology. It is small enough to be able to support such a test, as well as being large enough that the test can generate viable and valuable results. A test here would give a large return for a low capital investment, more so than in most other countries. Since the British took over in 1815, they ran many such tests in Sri Lanka. Tests on infrastructure, agriculture, and social reforms. Successful technologies and theories were then applied elsewhere. In the recent past we have had many organisations rolling out new technologies here first, to see how the people adapt to and accept it.

In the scale of a larger country, teaching Linux in five hundred schools in one year, and a thousand schools in two, would not be a major event. Yet in the scale of Sri Lanka, it is a very major undertaking. There are bound to certain pressures against us, and a lot of lessons to be learned as we go along. As in any developing nation we will have to fight against the already entrenched powers with a personal interest in making sure that Free Software does not catch on in a large and largely untapped market. There is a fight to be won, and many lessons to be learned. These lessons are the ones that will help when Project: Tux is translated to other countries, so that other developing nations can also gain the independence that is provided by Linux and FOSS.