All primary and
secondary public schools in the Swiss Canton of Geneva are switching to
using Ubuntu GNU/Linux for the PCs used by teachers and students. The
switch has been completed by all of the 170 primary public schools, and
the migration of the canton's 20 secondary schools is planned for the
next school year. Ubuntu GNU/Linux offers powerful services to the
teachers, is easier to maintain, faster, safer and more stable than the
decade-old proprietary operating system it is replacing, the canton's
school IT department concludes, based on several four-year long pilots.
Making it easier to service the canton's schools' PC needs was one
the main reasons for 'Service écoles-médias' (SEM), part of Geneva's IT
department, to switch the schools to Ubuntu, as the proprietary system
is no longer being maintained. Secondly, it is easier for PC users to
switch to this system than to move to a recent version of the
proprietary operating system, explains Cyril Roiron, who heads the Open
Standards and Free Software project at the Geneva State Department for Education (Département de l'Instruction Publique, de la Culture et du Sport).
All of Geneva's primary schools, for school children aged 4 to 12,
have one PC in a classroom that can be used by teachers and students to
access the Internet, send emails, play educational games and run other
educational applications. The provided configuration
proposes 3 different sessions, based on the target group: one for the
'administrative' work of the teacher, and one for each of the two
children's age groups.
Some secondary schools, for students aged 12 to 15, already have one
or two PC labs and currently use a mix of PCs running Ubuntu and two
different brands of proprietary operating systems. "Where possible,
we'll be phasing out the proprietary systems. For now, one language
teaching tool will only work on a proprietary operating system, so we
will not be able to get rid of them all."
SEM is focussing entirely on the PCs that are used for teaching. It has been preparing the switch to GNU/Linux for years.
During this time, it has created inventories of PC hardware and the
various computer network facility capacities. It has searched for and
tested alternatives for all the applications used. The department is
making available a detailed http://petit-bazar.unige.ch/guide-utilisation-ubuntu.pdf
manual. They also organise teacher trainings, host an online forum for
teachers, and are available for teachers to drop by with questions on
As in many large ICT projects, Roiron says, switching the Geneva
Canton's secondary schools to Ubuntu GNU/Linux experienced a few
hiccups. A few teachers lost data during the switch because they did not
follow the back-up instructions and copied 'shortcuts to data', instead
of the data itself. Some teachers were very keen to use cloud services
to manage files, and the Service écoles-médias team wrestled with a wide
variety of printers and other PC peripherals. For some the drivers were
not fully translated into French, and others limited the available
options on printers. "We had many questions on the availability of
fonts, and how to scan photos and illustrations."
Easier to use
Ubuntu is proving not just easier to maintain, the switch is also
emphasising the use of PCs in primary schools, says Roiron. "We've
showed them how easy it is to use Ubuntu, and how we can help in several
ways, including on-site and remote."
Roiron contacted all schools to offer training and assistance. He
visited all of primary schools, often by bike, and met with teachers to
discuss their PC needs and taking away their fears and doubts.
Among the teachers themselves, the biggest resistance is to the
change from a proprietary text editor to the LibreOffice text editor.
This is highlighting a lot of interoperability issues with documents
stored in a mix of proprietary electronic formats, Roiron says. "We
recommend that teachers install LibreOffice at home, or if that is not
an option, to create PDFs for those documents they need to print at
school. But that move is not exactly popular, even though training and
support is available."
"Teachers in the secondary schools are required
to give an introduction into free software, says Roiron. "However, many
teachers don't have the time to increase their knowledge. It would make
sense if more teachers were aware of the freedoms that come with free and open source software."
Geneva's primary schools has 32,501 students in the 2012/2013 school year, and another 13,048 students in the compulsory stage of its secondary school cycle.