Should a student be using Ubuntu
Free software in schoolWith Linux computers for digital sustainability
At the Georg-Büchner-Gymnasium in Seelze near Hanover there have been almost only Linux devices for some years. The staff hesitated, but then switched from Windows to Linux, says Felix Schoppe. He takes care of the three computer rooms, several individual computers and a total of around 150 laptops for 1,400 students: inside his school. Felix Schoppe actually teaches physics, French and computer science. He talked to us about how technology can be used to convey certain values to students.
netzpolitik.org: How did the students switch from Windows to Linux?
Felix Schoppe: Overall very good. We also have a media education concept that says in black and white that we want to use free software. In the vote at the conference as a whole, there were no votes against, just a few abstentions. The student council also reported back to me that they are finding their way well with Linux. Of course, in individual cases there are also a few colleagues who might want Microsoft Office after all, but on the whole there really is a consensus because behind it, of course, there is also the environmental protection idea.
We work with used hardware and mostly repair it ourselves. We have notebooks that are over ten years old, but they really still work perfectly with Linux. When we bought a lot of laptops, I had support from students in the form of a working group. They then helped to install them and also partially repaired them when they were broken.
If you buy them from a professional used dealer, you also have a warranty. So you could send in a broken device and have it repaired. But it's easier if you do it yourself. Fortunately, I have also found dealerships where I can give me a quick call and say: Here with the device, an SSD is broken and it still has a warranty. Then we get a new one sent and swap it ourselves.
It's really extremely sustainable. Especially when you think about it: We don't buy all the devices where batteries are permanently installed today or where components can no longer be exchanged at all. So it's all interrelated. We take climate protection seriously: If we have a photovoltaic system on the roof and our own beehives, it would be incredibly implausible if we were to buy disposable devices.
netzpolitik.org: Is that also a reason why you don't use iPads, for example?
Felix Schoppe: Of course, they have undeniable advantages. iPads are extremely reliable and are instantly on when you need them. But you also have to ask yourself: What are the values behind it and what do we want to convey to the students? In times of climate change, I find it extremely important to show that you can act differently. You can buy equipment that you can repair, that you can use for a very long time.
With Linux it is also the case that Free Software is generally a community project. I have seen this myself many times. We use a terminal server solution in our PC rooms where the PCs have no hard drives. This makes them extremely easy to maintain and if there are problems, then this is discussed in the development community and people work together across borders.
When I had acute problems, I exchanged several emails a day with a colleague in Greece. This creates a close collaboration, although you have never seen each other in person. That's something you can't get across with iPads.
netzpolitik.org: Are you involved in the development yourself?
Felix Schoppe: No. But if I find errors, I report them to the community and of course try to find out why. Every now and then I contribute a little bit of a problem-solving approach, but I wouldn't say that I'm actively involved in the development. Nevertheless, I always try to give something back to the community and make free software better.
netzpolitik.org: Who is responsible for ensuring that the technology works?
Felix Schoppe: A school from Göttingen that I know has commissioned a professional IT service provider. There are numerous medium-sized companies in Germany that do exactly this: IT consulting and IT services. They are given the task of creating a network in the school and of needing management of Linux devices.
I know a few companies from Hessen and Schleswig-Holstein. You conclude a contract with them and also agree on how the support will run. If something doesn't work, they are responsible. That is possible - and would actually be the best solution. I'm a teacher and not really an IT service provider.
netzpolitik.org: That means that you take care of the equipment yourself?
Felix Schoppe: Exactly. Of course we have our school authority, who has two IT administrators for several schools. But they mainly take care of the network and are already well utilized. We are currently working to ensure that the entire building is equipped with WiFi. You already have a huge network infrastructure.
We take care of the end devices at the school ourselves. When you take on such special tasks as a teacher, you get relief hours. That means you have to teach a little less. Of course, these hours do not relieve the burden to the extent that you put work into it - even if you allow time for lesson planning and corrections.
netzpolitik.org: Would you like your school to work with a service provider?
Felix Schoppe: At the moment everything is OK. It is also the case that we have a service provider for our school server. That's a good thing. Especially when you are completely dependent on it going in Corona times, then I would not want to guarantee it. It is a great relief to know that there is someone who is professionally responsible for that.
netzpolitik.org: How are things going at your school right now?
Felix Schoppe: Of course, like all other schools, we had to switch to e-learning overnight. This was not a problem with the school server infrastructure. However, it was not ensured that all students can work adequately at home and that they have a device available. That's why we then started lending our school's laptops to the students until the summer holidays.
The class teachers had the task of ensuring in their classes that everyone had a device or was given one on loan. That was very easy, we didn't ask for a deposit. First we discussed an explanation that you really don't have your own device, but it wasn't necessary at all. We have now loaned out just over 60 devices.
netzpolitik.org: Is your school a role model with this model?
Felix Schoppe: Of course, that would be my wish to teach students how to use devices sustainably, how to repair them themselves and how to use them for as long as possible. Ultimately, however, each school has to decide for itself, because you have to represent the educational concept behind it. Of course, it is also part of the truth that there can and will also be problems with Free Software and Linux.
Maybe there is some cool iPad app that we can't use - that's part of it. As a school, you have to decide how you want to do that. We have the advantage that we have a very strong IT department at our school with competent colleagues.
netzpolitik.org: Which political framework conditions could support your approach more?
Felix Schoppe: This is currently in work in Lower Saxony: There was a draft decree on the use of mobile devices in exams that was very much tailored to iPads. Fortunately, it has now been revised. There is a new draft decree that looks much better and also enables us to use Linux laptops with an examination stick from the Digital Sustainability Research Center at the University of Bern. It's better that way. I also got involved personally as a “one-person open source lobby”.
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