[clug] Linux in Education.

adam adam at alphacomplex.org
Thu Jun 29 09:30:42 GMT 2006

Hi All,
I've just joined the list and after reading the thread 'Linux Learners 
Group idea', I would like to contribute some of my knowledge of how IT 
support works in Govt schools. While I can't say that I am an expert on 
the subject I have had a fair amount of experience. I worked as a 
schools assistant for about 5 years doing tech support a couple days a 
week at various different primary schools around the north side. I left 
at the end of last year to work as a SysAdmin but I think that most of 
this information will still be relevant.

 > Not at all true, I think.  In my experience a school's computer systems
 > tend to be maintained in house.  In poorer (e.g. government) schools,
 > it'll sometimes be an enthusiastic maths teacher given the extra
 > responsibilities to keep everything running, others may have employed
 > someone full time to work on it. I know at least one school which
 > employs students to do the job!
 > -- Drew

Those enthusiastic (maths) teachers get given the role of ICT 
coordinator. Their role is to fix things they can and source new IT 
software and Hardware. They are often helped by Schools Assistants and 
more recently SITS members...

This was how it was done when I started (as an apprentice) and is still 
largely the case. A few years back the DET was handed a lump of money to 
shove into IT in schools. DET decided that there would be two main uses 
for this money. The first was to hire 4 teams of about 6 people who are 
now the Schools IT Support (SITS) teams and cover a section of Canberra 
each. They work for DET (although with the new budget they are probably 
all moving over to InTACT) as ITO 1s and 2s with a few trainees.  The 
idea was that each of these teams would send a person to each school at 
least once a week to help maintain and upgrade the student networks 
(StuNETs) although a lot of the work they have done has also concerned 
the staff networks (EduNETs). This has resulted in less people being 
employed by the schools to work on IT but there are still some schools 
assistants around and probably an ITO here and there.

The other major use of this money was for SITIF (Schools IT 
Infrastructure Fund). The fund was setup to upgrade the overall 
infrastructure used to provide ICT to students. Each school who wanted a 
piece of the pie had to secure quotes for installing sufficient data and 
power outlets for every student PC (and all the staff's as well) as well 
as installing new switching gear and new file servers. The installed 
solutions had to match strict guidelines on the who/what/when and how. 
The projects were largely successful and mean that most Govt schools in 
the ACT have Cisco switching gear, HP proliant file servers and 
excellent coverage of power and data points.

The upshot of all this is that everything is 'standardised' on what the 
DET and their SITS teams can support. Every school is licensed for one 
copy of Win2k3 AdvServer which runs on the HP server with AD and other 
such goodies. This is the tested and supported environment that schools 
must use if they wish to be supported by DET. All the Cisco switches are 
VLANed so that EduNET and StuNET run off the same hardware (how very 
convenient, I say) and are controlled centrally by DET, even though the 
schools forked out half the cost for these switches and the other half 
of the money was to provide better infrastructure for the StuNETs. Yeah 
I'm a little bitter.

 > The real decision makers here are the school executive - the principal
 > and deputy principal etc.  The lone teacher will only be able to proceed
 > (and *will* be able to proceed) if he/she feels s/he has the support of
 > the executive.  And the pressure of the parents is what causes the
 > executive to make that decision.
 > -- Drew

Convincing principles to trial Linux could be made difficult by DET as 
the SITIF teams were employed for their Windows skills and will be 
somewhat reluctant to let go of their servers and desktops to things 
that they wont officially support. There are principles and ICT 
coordinators that are open to the idea. One of my former schools was 
quite interested but we all agreed that it would be very difficult to 
support after I left. The biggest thing that needs to be worked out 
before deploying Linux in a school is the long term support options for 
that school. I know there are some consulting firms around Canberra that 
would happily do it for a fee but many of these schools still have 686s, 
K6s and other such rubbish in their classrooms. Free or cheap support 
that is reliable is a must.

There is plenty of opportunities to replace Windows with Linux. The file 
servers and domain controllers would be a great start. Setting up small 
clusters of multi headed machines or running one or more LTSP servers or 
even just a small lab of "here's something new, give it a try" would 
benefit the schools. Turning all those old AOpen ex-lease machines into 
dumb terminals with limited moving parts would solve a heap of hardware 
support issues.

There was a small group of people who were very keen to get Linux into 
schools, so much so that they started work on a Distro called SNS 
(Schools Network Server) which looked promising but a lot of politics 
got in the way and bridges were burnt. I think this could create hurdles 
in the way of Linux adoption but I don't want that to stop anyone from 
trying. Their page at http://linux.act.edu.au has become a little outdated.

If anyone is interested I can probably get you contact details of people 
who have more recent experience and probably also an interested 
principle or two.


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