Child’s Play: Linux Conversion Through Education

What's the easiest way to get more people using Linux? Start them young.

Successful and peaceful conversion of a population to any new concept occurs through its children. If you want to make people recycle plastic bottles, start a recycling program in Elementary School. Do you want to introduce a new type of mathematics? Introduce it in Elementary School. Do you have an internationally accepted system of measurement that you want everyone to use? OK, that last one doesn’t count.

You may, however, convert the world to Linux by providing free and engaging Elementary School level educational and edutainment programs. This article gives you an introduction to three actively developed educational systems for children: The KDE Education Project, The GCompris Educational Suite, and The Childsplay Suite.

THE PROBLEM IS ELEMENTARY

When confronted by parents to use computers and educational software in the classroom, teachers and school officials point to near-empty coffers and stressed budgets as their reason not to do so. Elementary schools can spend thousands per year on computer-oriented educational programs for their students. Some of these systems can cost upwards of $50,000 USD or more to get a full complement of software and student learning materials for a single grade level. This number is far too high for many school districts leaving them to either do without computerized educational software or seek free alternatives.

Linux, itself, is advantageous because it is free, works on older hardware with which many schools suffer, and there are hundreds of free educational and productivity applications available for it. School officials concerned about support, security, or open source software in general should solicit information and assistance from Linux-savvy parents and teachers.

KDE EDUCATION PROJECT

The KDE Education Project (KDE-Edu) developers offer a host of educational applications for children as young as 3 up to 18. By the time a child reaches the teenage years, most will have moved on to interacting with the operating system itself and utilizing its power for homework and research.

KDE-Edu offers a wide range of applications from Language-building apps like Kanagram and KWordQuiz to math-related ones such as KAlgebra and KBruch to blinken and KTurtle that fall under the Miscellaneous Edutainment category. The KDE Education Suite is part of a standard installation of KDE 4.

Listed under Edutainment in KDE 4, as shown in Figure 1, are the following applications (listings may differ slightly between distributions):

FIGURE 1: KDE 4 Edutainment Applications
FIGURE 1: KDE 4 Edutainment Applications

LISTING 1: KDE 4 Edutainment Applications

  • Languages
    • Letter Order Game (Kanagram)
    • Hangman Game (KHangMan)
    • Japanese Reference/Study Tool (Kiten)
    • Learn the Alphabet (KLettres)
    • Flash Card Trainer (KWordQuiz)
    • Vocabulary Trainer (Parley)
  • Mathematics
    • Graph Calculator (KAlgebra)
    • Exercise Fractions (KBruch)
    • Interactive Geometry (Kig)
    • Mathematical Function Plotter (KmPlot)
    • Exercise Percentages (KPercentage)
    • Educational Programming Environment (KTurtle)
  • Chemical
    • Kalzium – Periodic Table of the Elements
  • Teaching
    • Blinken (blinken) – Classic Electronic Simon Game
    • Geography Trainer (KGeography)
    • Touch Typing Tutor (KTouch)
  • Astronomy
    • Desktop Planetarium (KStars)
    • Desktop Globe (Marble)

Since there are no dependencies (other than KDE4) for the KDE Educational Suite, fun-packed learning is just a few clicks away. The Classic game Simon, a favorite enjoyed by children and adults for 30 years, called Blinken is ready to test your memory. Shown in Figure 2, it’s irresistable to kids but you may have to release your inner child first to let them play it.

FIGURE 2: Blinken Classic Memory Game
FIGURE 2: Blinken Classic Memory Game

Comments on "Child’s Play: Linux Conversion Through Education"

barotashish

Yes, Of course!

This will make its effect in next coming generation.

And in next generation, it will not strange if people will gift each other GNU/Linux Distributions. :) And there is nothing wrong in it.

Hope we all give positive push to this concept.

Regards,
Ashish Barot.

Reply
songwind

My older kids were introduced to Linux a bit after most of these programs would be used, but they use our Linux systems every week to do their homework. Open Office, Scribus, GIMP, and many others work perfectly to produce great homework at no cost. (And without using stolen copies of commercial software – a dangerous example for impressionable kids.)

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jsilve1

So, everything about Linux mag is “preaching to the choir” but that’s really okay. I’d like to see articles like this, or discussions on this topic somehow pushed out to the general public, but that is, perhaps, a topic for another article.

Anyway, my 4yo son loves using Childsplay, Gcompris, and Tux Paint. I’d say he uses Gcompris the most. But this article also misses an important point, possibly because it is not really in the scope of what the article is trying to address.

The point is that these days, the general computing “platform” is moving more and more to the WEB BROWSER and making the underlying OS irrelevant. My point here is that my son, who attends a nursery school/daycare, can come home and use the exact same games at home /because they are all flash-based applets on the web/.

I think this is a good thing, generally speaking. Its not without problems, of course.

A big problem with web-based stuff is its tendency towards commercialism. Even with PBS Kids, there is an undercurrent of “buy this merchandise”. Some of the PBS Kids dot org games and learning tools are pretty cool, though. And *someone* has to pay for the development of stuff. The complete and utter lack of commercialism in Gcompris, Childsplay, and the other FOSS kids tools is a breath of fresh air, but the quality of the art, sound, and general imagery is not quite as high as the commercially available stuff. The quality of *gameplay* is, though.

Seeya!

Reply
gamesbook

Please publish (if possible) that planned presentation here…

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kkjensen

My kids love the suites mentioned here but also really like the Glubble add-on for firefox. It locks up Firefox and only provides access to child friendly/safe websites. These sites are managable from anywhere by parents and is customizable for each kid so the youngest aren’t lost in a mathematics website and the sites made available for older kids can be more focused on education than entertainment.

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kkjensen

Forgot to mention, with glubble you can wade down into websites and lock out the commercial pages or just remove the entire site if it’s too commercial (i.e. anything barbie related)

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aborrell

I agree with you, Linux should be introduced at an early stage. In Latin America schools opt for Windows applications because of piracy (mainly) but also because teachers are affraid of Linux and learninig it. So it would be also necessary to get a pool of computing teachers with a good knowledege of open source

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philip@hux.co.za

Well your absolutly right i suppose you have heard of the OLPC (One Laptop per Child) plan, give every child a laptop for schooling ,forget books, study guides pens, paper you name it. the child uses their new laptop for all there schooling and guess what? it runs on LINUX.

Now your child grows up only know whats in his/hers face all day long LINUX they grow up and there you have it a new generation of Pengiun lovers. tell you what my kids will eat sleep and drink Linux.

Reply
graemeharrison

As I posted a month ago on the Australian Broadcasting Commission site
http://www.abc.net.au/unleashed/stories/s2370940.htm
let me repeat as it is relevant here (but slight Australian perspective):

I agree… that education departments have not broken the nexus between computing and Microsoft.

As I posted recently on ZDnet.com.au forum:
[Start of extract of post at ZDnet]
The real battle will be over school Operating System use. I think Ubuntu is now far more secure, stable, less-viral, easy-to-use and has far lower total cost of ownership than any proprietary OS. And interestingly, it may take the success of the One-Laptop-Per-Child project in Africa to confirm to OECD-country education departments that Ubuntu is the ‘free/open’ way to go. Then we’d see an interesting phenomenon where the first-world will learn IT lessons from the third-world. I’m still laughing from hearing the NSW Education Dept’s claim that it can’t/won’t accept the free computer for each high school student from the Rudd [Australian] Federal Government on the grounds that the software and support costs will cripple the education budget. Someone should show the minister how a cloned Ubuntu drive can be copied in just minutes (as no separate licensing muck-around per PC) and how a user logged in as ‘Guest’ can do all manner of browsing but not EVER cause a stuff-up on the system, irrespective of what malware sites are visited.

WinXP never asked if you objected to the storage of a executable file in the program area of the system; Vista asks all the time, to the point where people disable the feature; Linux asks only once per 3-10 days when there are real program updates available, but then prevents you from by-passing this important security feature.
Graeme Harrison (prof at-symbol post.harvard.edu)
[End of extract]

The support costs could be 70% less with Open Source (eg Linux) AND I object to kids being taught corporate/proprietary formats and applications. Let’s remember that the ISO standard for documents is now OpenOffice (M$ ‘DOT DOC’ was rejected)!

Having got my rant about ‘standards’ and ‘open source’ out of the way, let me say that, like the author’s cousin, I too have decades of experience in the IT industry.

I think there are definitely ‘real world parallels’ in having kids use Google and Wiki to research topics, rather than accessing index card drawers in their local library. Having kids by Yr3 able to type up and save documents ain’t bad either. Feeling comfortable doing a powerpoint presentation by Yr4 or Yr5 is a good skill to be comfortable with too.

I think the challenge is to ensure that these are NOT the only skills kids get (for the reasons cited in ABC article). That is not to say we need to do equal time in index card drawers… but just that we need to make sure that at least half the assignments up to Yr10 are required to be in handwriting, so that our future adults can still write (as well as type) and to ensure (as best we can) that they did not just copy-and-paste from elsewhere.

Google and Wiki are great tools, and what they are likely to use in real life. Go back one generation and remember that the argument then was about use of calculators (that excessive use could decrease numeracy skills)… and for Engineering students a generation before that, the use of slide rules to speed up calculators (similar argument).

When I started my first undergraduate course in 1972 we were just then (Sydney Uni) allowed to bring calculators into exams. But I still have the numeracy skills – like the mathematician with constipation – to work it out from first principles using just paper and pencil.

A news item on IT mag http://www.ZDnet.com.au notes that Portugal earlier this year did a licensing deal with Intel to build 500,000 laptops in Portugal for school kids, based on the Intel Atom low-power processor. Now Portugal reports a deal with Venezuela to supply 1,000,000 laptops for that country’s school kids. Of course all 1,500,000 will run Linux, not Windoze.

Australia [and America] needs to get behind the Open Source revolution, rather than training our youngest how to live a life entirely locked-into proprietary protocols. In time it has the power to change our whole economy. The countries with whom we will compete over the next century are already not paying large software royalties, so why should we put ourselves at a competitive disadvantage?
Graeme Harrison (prof at-symbol post.harvard.edu)

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hawkeyit

As a teacher, the tools we need are not games or game like applications (I can get those from many web sites) but creative tools, tools to build multimedia projects. The most popular and useful tools in schools are; M$ MovieMaker, PhotoStory. These are used extensively in classrooms today. We need Linux equivalents. Another area, Introduction to Programming tools i.e Scratch and Alice, no real solutions exist for Linux! Another area is making games and games programming, GameMaker is used in many schools, a Linux version is needed. Students today need to be creating digital content, programming will be the future literacy, we need fun easy tools for children, take a look at Scratch! These software tools are desperately need for Linux to take hold in Education. KDE Education Project need to prioritize the development and or porting of these types of applications!

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hawkeyit

Graeme, As fellow Australian and Educator, I would like to say that I am actually at the coal face, in fact 2 decades; Teaching Middle and Senior School ICT and IT. You are spot on we need to get behind the OpenSource revolution! I agree that we should be spending less time writing or learning the basics. The paradigm of teaching needs to change. We need to make significant room in the curriculum for the “new” skills. “Writing is merely a method for recording thoughts. Not long ago neat cursive penmanship was the best method we had for this, because it was faster than printing and universally legible. Now we have better methods, such as phones, recording machines, IM, and keyboarding. As our kids all get their own phones and laptops, do we really need to teach them the old ways?” http://www.marcprensky.com/writing/Prensky-Backup_Education-EdTech-1-08.pdf
Roger Hawkins

Reply
mirandasoft

Shortly after I moved to Philippines in late 2006, to get married, etc., my wife’s nephew (6 years old at that time) found (Ubuntu) Linux more entertaining than M$ Windows. I had Linux installed for only a couple of months. Josh, the nephew, is a pure Filipino boy, that have never been outside the Philippines, never outside of Pasig City, where he currently resides. (He learned his English from Cartoon Network.) Josh found entertainment in the educational software that freely available for Linux. This goes to show, that in a world of pirated software, some good things just doesn’t have to be pirated. Linux is a good example to show children. Help them excel in Math, and then teach them C/C++ programming. If many children is introduced to Linux at a young age, then more exciting games will be produced (in Linux). What ‘wakes up’ children, here in Manila, Philippines, is that when they hear they can program the computer without use of pirated software, they become curious at the free “stuff” available in Linux.

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tedyost1970

Great stuff, but I’m running MEPIS 7.0 and 8.0 beta 5. I love the distro and have no desire to switch, but they run KDE 3.5.8.

What are my options to get the latest GCompris and Child’s Play?

thank you,
TY

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jarscott1

I agree entirely with the idea of starting with the youngsters. The idea of Linux is sooo good, as it can run on older hardware, which is what most schools in Jamaica have ( Those that actually have computers). Where I think we need help is getting the teachers more comfortable with Linux. That way, they won’t be “afraid” to work with Linux around the students.

Reply

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