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Tuesday, 19 January 2010 08:14

Auckland: where a FOSS school is a reality

Mark Osborne is not a technical person. That's the first point he made when he stood up to deliver his presentation on The Open Source Secondary School at the 11th Australian national Linux conference this morning.

He is an English teacher and the deputy principal of Albany Senior High School in Auckland which opened its doors in 2009. It has the proud distinction of being the first state-funded senior high school to exclusively use open source software for every need.
Mark Osborne
Or maybe that should be almost everything - the school has one PC that runs Windows XP as the business manager loves MYOB. But, Osborne told his audience, that would be disappearing soon too.

The school also uses two proprietary Google applications but since those are accessed through Firefox, Osborne is willing to make the compromise until substitutes are found.

A total of 450 students started the year in 2010 and this is projected to increase to 1400.

Osborne said that in keeping with the principle of open source, there were no classrooms, only what he called "flexible learning commons."

The starting point for adopting FOSS was the school's vision and values, Osborne told iTWire. Thus, the chances of switching back to proprietary software were absolutely minimal as closed software could not fulfil the values and vision.

The school emphasises group work, collaboration and project-based learning. The vision is: "we nurture each other, we inspire each other, we empower each other, to achieve highly and become good citizens."

The values begin with the pursuit of excellence in all that the school does and extends to things like curiosity and inquiry, creativity and innovation.


Osborne said he had used his first open source application - Firefox - back in the year 2000. As he continued using FOSS, he began finding more and more free software that could replace proprietary applications.

Budgets did not get in the way of the school starting up as it was a greenfields site and not locked into any budget.

The actual provisioning of software for the school was outsourced to a company named Open Systems Specialists. Osborne credits three staffers of this company - Patrick Brennan, Glen Ogilvy and Jim Ahara - with doing an excellent job of handling the technical side of things.

Albany has 200 personal computers all running Ubuntu. There are 50 staff laptops running the same GNU/Linux distribution. And there is the one XP machine mentioned earlier.

The school uses Moodle for managing the courses that are offered. The open source e-portfolio system Mahara is also in use.

For its library management, Koha is used. And, Osborne added, was something without which the school could not manage.

In keeping with the philosophy of openness, the students are involved in many things at the school, things which students at other schools would never do. For example, once the subject matter of the history text book had been decided upon by staff, students helped to build the textbook using the WikiEducator.

The students have also built a digital signage system. Software like the GIMP, Inkscape, Scribus and Blender are other FOSS applications which are in use.


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Sam Varghese

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Sam Varghese has been writing for iTWire since 2006, a year after the site came into existence. For nearly a decade thereafter, he wrote mostly about free and open source software, based on his own use of this genre of software. Since May 2016, he has been writing across many areas of technology. He has been a journalist for nearly 40 years in India (Indian Express and Deccan Herald), the UAE (Khaleej Times) and Australia (Daily Commercial News (now defunct) and The Age). His personal blog is titled Irregular Expression.



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