05 August 2009

A Look at Linux Educacional 3.0

A week or so ago I stumbled across an article, in Portuguese, from March of this year that talks about a program the Brazilian government's ministry of education is expanding. It's pretty exciting, especially for those interested in Linux and open source in educational settings. A special Linux distro has been developed and is being deployed with hardware into 26,000 schools in Brazil, and more are apparently in the works. Once I found the website for the distro, Linux Educacional 3.0, I wasted no time and downloaded the iso image for the live CD. I set up VirtualBox to receive it and the following are screenshots of what I found.

Since I had this in VirtualBox I went ahead and did a full install, rather than just play around with the live CD. The above is, as you can see, the welcome/start screen.

As you can see, the different options can be found under "Iniciar" ("Start"). It sort of resembles Windows in a way. Speaking of which, notice that Wine comes standard with this distro. You can see it in the options above. Although most of what the students use will be Linux-compatible, it was a wise choice to include Wine in case it's needed. Quite a bit of educational software the world over is still only Windows-compatible, and since Linux is relatively new to most people in Brazil, it's good if older proprietary software "just works."

This annoyed me a little. Clicking on either "Domínio Publico" or "TV escola" got me this error message. There were packages specific to this distro missing which needed to be downloaded. Of course, not everything can come on a live CD, and once I got a look at the volume of material to be downloaded I realized it was too much to ask for everything to work right out of the box.

Logging into "Adept," the package manager, I made an interesting discovery....

Updating the available packages, I discovered that this distro pulls from the Ubuntu 8.04 (Hardy Heron) repositories.

Just a little more poking around and I found that the desktop environment is KDE. Personally, I prefer Gnome, but whatever works. Putting it all together, what we have in Linux Educacional 3.0 is a creative reworking of Kubuntu 8.04. Again, the developers made a wise choice. The Ubuntu distros and their repositories are stable, making a good option for long-term educational software.

This is where I really got annoyed. As I mentioned above, a lot of the educational material for use in this distro doesn't come standard. Again, that makes sense. Why, though, couldn't the developers have pre-set the repo address to acquire the needed packages? Instead, whoever does the installation has to add the repo addess manually. I'd think this would make larger-scale deployment just a bit longer than necessary. Can anyone tell me if there is a real reason why the repo address couldn't be pre-set?

Here I am browsing the list of educational packages available from the Ministry of Education's repo.

Finally, I downloaded and played the national anthem of Brazil. I also downloaded a series of science videos oriented toward primary school children.

Minor installation annoyances aside, overall I was impressed with this distro. It is based on a good, reliable source (Kubuntu) and provides a wide array of educational tools. It even includes kTurtle, a programming environment with a language described as "loosly based on Logo." The software is good, so here's to hoping for qualified teachers with a good curriculum to make full use of the resource.
Computadores para 26 mil escolas (MEC)
Google translation of article