Wende School Project – Part 2

Wende School Computer Room - Before decoration
Computer Room at Wende School – Before decoration

Welcome to part 2 of my early post written in October 2009 which is mainly about the school selection, the preparation work and training.

During the school summer holiday, we went back to Wende School a few times and discussed with the headmaster about the computer room decoration and set up. We look at things like:

  • Class orientation (make it easy for teachers to monitor & manage)
  • Server / computer for teacher
  • Internet and Wifi network
  • Electricity and cabling
  • Hardware protection (avoid dust and direct sunlight to computers)
  • Safety management (prevent kids from accessing the electricity sockets)
  • Security and thief proofing (install bars on windows and locks on doors)

By mid August, we visited again to check on the decoration status. What impressed me is that the headmaster actually was renovating the school with his wife by themselves, I saw them sweating while painting the walls and building the fences of the kindergarten. We were however a bit disappointed on the computer lab renovation progress: nothing had started yes and it was still the same storage room that you can see on the photo above. So we could only review the room requirements, discussed about who would be receiving  the training and whether they had a candidate to become part time system admin to manage the lab. Headmaster Cui had already thought about it and suggested to select a few teachers who have been working by his side for a while with some computer knowledge. We didn’t want to train someone to see leaving the school within months (which is currently a generic problem of such schools for migrant workers kids). He of course included himself in the group so they can also manage knowledge transfer by themselves.

Delivered 20 Gdiums to Wende School
Donated 20 Gdiums to Wende School

Early September 2009, Dexxon / the Gdium Foundation donated 20 Gdiums to Wende School as initially agreed. We were very excited about the start! The room was almost ready. It was decorated with nice white paint (it’s a bit plain but we can always add some colorful drawing later), carpets, bars, locks and clean tables and chairs. Not enough electricity sockets were installed, so we had to add a few wire extensions and plugs. Of course there were still some sundries here and there but we were ready to start teachers training sessions. The same day, headmaster Cui provided a server and Wifi router for us to prepare and use in the newly installed lab.

Gdiums in Wende School
Testing 20 Gdiums at Wende School Computer Lab

One week later the whole set up was ready and we could start training the four selected teachers.  In my opinion Mr. Cui did an excellent job by choosing people with a very diverse background: we have a young teacher who is very open to new things; the administration manager, a 40+ years old lady who is only familiar with Windows; a college student who was just hired as part-time system admin to manage the computer room, and himself.

After discussion with the headmaster and the teachers, we agreed to give 4 to 6 days of training depending on the progress. 4 hours per day with a break every hour. 1 training day per week so they have enough time to digest and practice what they have learned. We printed and binded 5 Greenboard Open Textbooks covering all the initial deployment courses, 1 for trainer and 4 for teachers. Seeing the 5 textbooks print out, I got the feeling that a milestone of the project had been reached. Of course this is only version 1.0 (beta) and we already have a roadmap for future versions to come. Besides since the courses are released under a Creative Commons license, anybody can just jump in, give their feedback and actively contribute.

Training Wende School teachers
Giving training to Wende School teachers

On the first day of training, Jason was the key trainer while I was the assistant trainer. Julien and Liantao were testing the server performance with 20 Gdiums. It was exciting to see the reaction and get feedback from the teachers! The student sys-admin and headmaster seems quite familiar with Gdium and its operating system already. I guess they took a bit of advance by taking them home and exploring all the options.

The young teacher (Miss Liu) was very eager to learn and excited to discover new things. the only slight resistance came from the administration manager who had to learn a different system, which is not what she has been using for the past years. At the beginning, she showed her frustration and asked a lot of questions about what’s the hardware performance and if Linux could do the same things as Windows. During each break, we spent some time to explain the benefits of Open Source in general and in education in particular. The last training session covering Gcompris education suite nailed it: we saw her trying out all the educational activities supplied by the suite, with a big smile and satisfaction on her face and she said:  “These games are good for children to learn Maths and English!”  Say no more! What’s better than experiencing it by herself?

As mentioned earlier, making schools understand the benefits of Open Source can be challenging, “Free” as Free beer doesn’t work as almost every software is free in China, we focus on “Free” as “Freedom” but how many people care about it? Most people have habits and are addicted to Microsoft software. It will definitely take some time to change. The good thing is that Open Source and Linux are not companies, we don’t have quarterly financial report to fulfill, that means we have time. By providing a total solution with education oriented customized Operating System for students / teachers / Server computers, a complete training courses / curriculum and constant maintenance support, it will definitely fasten the process. I look forward to seeing more school benefiting from it!

As this is an ongoing project, do expect to read more about our progress, experiences, and maybe difficulties right here!