SchoolOS @ Outreach
I am one of the member of cognizant outreach council (CSR wing of cognizant) . From cognizant we donated refurbished computers to schools. All the computers had pretty decent hardware configurations – mostly they are P4 processors with 256MB of RAM. We donated 15 computers to “pallikaranai – Govt higher secondary school” and 2 computers to “Kannaginagar – Panchayat union primary school”.
Most of the computers didn’t have any operating systems installed. Some had Windows XP with no applications not even MS – Office. At the end of the day kids are not going to use P4 processors and 256 MB of RAM. They are going to use the applications and content inside the computer.
I learnt about School OS a Linux based operating system, built on top of ubuntu. It is a joint initiative by IIT-Delhi and NCERT – National council for Education Research and Training. The creators of this operating system integrated lot of applications that targets students in schools.
Some of the applications worth mentioning here are,
1. Open Office – A software which is similar to Microsoft office.
2. Stellarium – A desktop planetarium
3. TuxPaint – A award winning drawing/painting program for kids
4. supertux – Addictive super mario type game
5. CodeBlocks – C/C++ IDE which is a better replacement for Turbo-C
and lot of programs related to maths,puzzles,chemistry,planets.
After getting approval from Outreach folks and my boss i went to ‘ pallikaranai’ school with a bootable usb key and my personal laptop. None of the computers had CD/DVD drive, so i had to install everything from usb and network.
When i was installing SchoolOS. A science teacher came inside the lab. She wanted to type something in Tamil and take a print out of it for the upcoming science exhibition . The computer teacher was using a Tamil Onscreen keyboard in Windows XP. It took her almost 30 minutes to complete typing a sentence in Tamil by clicking the onscreen tamil keyboard. The Geek inside me woke up! I offered them to use school OS. There is something called IBus in Linux , which helps people to type in almost any Indian language. I enabled Tamil- Phonetic keyboard. With Phonetic keyboard if you type ‘amma’(mother) it will be converted into tamil equivalent to the sound ‘amma’ . I know know, with third party software you can enable this feature in windows XP :-) . With GNU/Linux it comes by default. Also the whole SchoolOS user interface can be changed to use Tamil as the default language (Localized desktop).
It took 5 hours to install 10 systems with SchoolOS. I then spent some time with the teachers who used to manage the lab. I asked them to work on the operating system. They picked it up very easily. The teachers were amazed by the stellarium and celestia. I showed them how to use codeblocks IDE to compile and run C/C++ programs. They agreed that it is better than Turbo-C. I had to modify the C++ programs in the book a bit to make it work with the standard GCC compiler.
We are also planning to conduct events/training to students once in a week. To provide content and learning material for students, with the help from Tamil Wikipedia community we started a mini project to download selected articles from Tamil wikipedia and make a CD out of it. Hope everything goes well :-).