with so much emphasis on getting linux to children, particularly students, one might think there would be nearly as many (maybe more) efforts to get free(dom) software to teachers. they are an important group of people because they teach our children, often with far too few resources given them to accomplish this task. even in the "first world" this is often the case: the school p. goes to has had to fall back on corporate sponsorship deals and still teachers dip into personal funds for classroom supplies. perhaps as poignantly: if we don't have tools of freedom in our institutions of learning how can we ever expect those learning there to understand the benefits and principles of freedom?
it was refreshing to speak with K.K. Subbu while in bangalore, india as he recounted one story of bringing free software to teachers. his opinion, shared by many in the area apparently, is that for students in the rural schools computers just aren't the best teaching device. they are great tools for the teachers, but nothing can replace the teacher themselves in their classrooms. so the NGO Subbu is volunteering in has instead been looking at how to make teachers more efficient and naturally they are looking to free software to help them accomplish this.
it started when a retired professor walked into a Kanakapura elementary school and told them he'd like to help out however he could. one of the challenges he (and later his group of volunteers) uncovered was the teacher's efforts to meet the requirement for students to be assessed three times per year. unlike the annual standardized test, these assessments were to be specific to the school as different schools progress at different rates making standardized testing not realistic. ("no child left behind" might learn something from that statement...)
now, creating tests are part of what a teacher does all the time. but these were particularly inconvenient. they needed to created tests for 4-5 subjects and had to do them on a computer. most used, or rather struggled with, microsoft word to lay out the tests and then they would need to get a master printed out. this would cost them around 40 rupees per test (20 rupees per page, and a two page test). they were rarely happy with the results given word's limited layout capabilities but it was all most had access to and knowledge of. some of the teachers would instead purchase a master from a regional school board and save 50-75%, though the test would no longer be customized to their class. either way, the process meant travel time and would take about a week from start to finish. with the master copy in hand, the teacher would then have to make copies which would cost a rupee or two per test copy.
enter kde and kile.
the volunteers started training teachers to use kile and gave them computers with a locked-down kde on it. the flexibility and completeness of kiosk was a primary reason for using kde and kile was simply perfect for their layouting needs. now these same teachers can simply write their test content and it's professionally laid out, turned into a print-ready pdf which they send to a digital printer. using the dvi format they can actually measure items on the screen with a ruler to make sure things are just right removing the need for a master print. the total cost is now less than half a rupee per test with no master copy cost. they are also able to make up to two tests per day.
who can argue with lower costs and saved time? not these teachers. and so now this group has adopted 50 schools with some 200 teachers. they have only just begun as the state they are in has some 48,000 elementary schools that provide classes for over 8,000,000 students. just imagine the potential savings in both time and money!
and of course the teachers who are using these kde systems have been poking around the computer and finding some of the other great pieces of software that came with the systems.
you can read more about this project at the sikshana blog. which reminds me, i promised Subbu i'd introduce him and the kile developers since they have some feedback for them, not to mention a few notes of thanks. =)