Update: there's a mailing list to discuss the project on eGroups,
so click here
to join the discussion -- CdG
This is just a quick write-up of a plan that has been breeding for the
last couple of months, which means that it is not yet complete. I am
releasing it at this moment because I want to see whether people or
interested to participate in this project, in any of the manners
If you are interested, please drop me a note. Don't worry, I'll cope
with the volume of response I'm expecting ;-). If there seems to be
a lot of interest, I'll setup a quick mailing list and add anybody
that has expressed interest.
Note that at the moment of this writing, I'm not aware of similar
efforts. If such efforts do exist, I rather direct attention to them
(given compatible operating parameters) then start a competing project.
Note, too, that I'm talking basic education here: from 4 to 18 years,
depending on your country's school system.
Our kids are going to be educated in a thoroughly different world than
the one we grew up in - I don't think I need to explain to the
readership of this document the impacts of the information age.
Hopefully, the various school curriculae will adopt to these changes
fast enough, but for several reasons I'm not too sure that this
First of all, it is all going too fast. Schools are typically used to
a pace in which the curriculum needs to change over periods of 5 or 10
years, not 5 to 10 months.
One of the results of this pace of change is that hardware requirements
change too fast. Schools are typically dumpyards for obsolete, or at
least 'current minus one generation', hardware and this is already
taxing their budgets. Furthermore, the success of hardware acquisition
is often tied directly to parent's pulling some threads, which gives
schools in better neighbourhoods very large advantages.
Having spent all their money on hardware and an Internet connection,
there is no budget for software. Windows'95 or '98 probably came with
the box (or MacOS, in the case they opted for that), and a bit of
bundled software was probably included as well, but really high-quality
educational software that could really support the school's courseware
comes with pricetags that are way too steep to fit the budget. Maybe
a single copy will go, but what schools will need, sooner or later,
is at least a two-to-one relation students/computers.
I don't want my kids (4.5 and 2 at the time of this writing) to be
educated on second-hand computers running obsolete versions of
monopolistic operating systems, with "surfing the Net" being the
most advanced use of these boxes. Probably most parents agree with
me, and I think that most non-parents would like to see a tad more
computer literacy taught as a part of basic education.
I can't equip all these schools with hardware, and I cannot volunteer
all over the world to install Linux on their computers (which will
close the one-generation-too-old gap the hardware causes at least a
bit), but I can volunteer to help in making sure that schools have
plenty of access to quality educational software, and have free
(speech) access to it.
I'd like to call it "the Project" for now - even though I have some
possible names for it, I want to keep them to myself in order to
avoid having to reserve the corresponding domain names up front.
The Project aims to deliver quality, free, platform independent
educational software that can be used by schools all over the
In the following paragraphs, I'll elaborate on these terms.
With this, I mean: indistinguishable, unless in a positive
aspect, from commercial offerings. From installation procedure
to manual to artwork, the stuff should simply be good.
Quite and simple: everything that is packaged to form the
final product - software, manuals, artwork - must be either
under the GNU General Public License or be licensed to the
project under liberal conditions (the latter mainly to enable
licensing of well-known characters - Sesame Street, Teletubbies -
although I'm not holding my breath here).
Platform Indepentent Software
The Project is not and should not be in a position to excert
an influence over the school's hardware buying decisions. Therefore
all software should be written in the Java programming
language. At the moment, this is the best environment that helps
in attaining the goal.
In the broadest sense: it has to support or enhance the teacher's
job. From teaching arithmetic to Internet search engine front-ends,
a lot is thinkable.
All over the world
Software should not be too specific to local school programs, and
internationalization/localization is a must. While we're at it,
we can throw accessibility into this basket so that children with
disabilities can profit from The Project's output.
The homebase for The Project will be an Internet site on an
aptly named host in the .org top-level domain. This site will
be equipped with basic collaboration tools (mailing lists,
FTP space, and maybe off-the-shelf collaboration tools like
People can apply for membership in the producer-side of the
project, and barriers for access will be put suitably low. General
groups will help people to organize themselves in specific projects
while some mandatory lists will make sure that work is reused. Nothing
fancy here, a lot of large groups are doing this all the time.
Most freeware/open source projects out on the Net are run by
programmers for well over 90%. This explains a lot of the bad
documentation for freeware out there ;-). Clearly, the story
is completely different here...
Given the development platform, hardly a surprise - we need Java
Educational software must be a joy to use, etcetera - it is therefore
highly visual so even more important than the programmers are graphics
gurus who know how to make software look good, but who can also come
up with funny characters, animate them, etecetera.
This kind of software needs storyboards. A lot of interaction is
taking place, and in order to support the educational goals the
interactions must be well thought-out.
Yes, we need these extreme right-brainers as well ;-) These are the
ones that setup school curriculae, and these are the pros in
their field who
can give advice on the do's and don'ts to the amateurs.
Even the highly interactive, fun-to-use software this project wants
to produce is going to need documentation on installation, with
teacher's instructions, etcetera.
Plain, hard cash; equipment, domain registry stuff, Internet
connections, administrative staff; licenses to use well-known
characters for the Project's software - just a couple of examples
how you can contribute even if you don't fit into one of the
As you can see, this will be a very mixed group with the hard-core
techies hopefully forming the minority.
Phase One: discuss it For the moment, I want to have
couple of weeks of ideas exchange on this project, rewriting this
document, filling in the details, checking feasibility, etcetera.
Phase Two: set it up Then, when at least a sponsor for DNS and a sponsor for the box plus
Network connection has been found, it is time to name the project,
set things up, and get publicity. This will take another three months
at least to get a version one of the collaboration environment going.
Phase Three: kick off During the box setup, initial project
plans can be discussed, and - via some form of democratic participation
- a vote can take place on the first project that will be started. This
is not the typical "scratch-your-own-itch" environment, and due to the
type of software a bit more structural approach needs to be taken. Even
when everybody is at all times welcome to do what he/she wants, a couple
of projects will be active at any given time and be managed in a bit of
a structured manner.
Phase Four: incorporate If phase three is a success, The
Project should be incorporated in a suitable country (Berne Convention,
etcetera) as soon as possible to be able to hold onto the copyrights. I
think this is an important measure to give schools the feeling that
they're investing time into reliable, long-term supported, software. It
is needless to say that this will be done as a public-interest,
I think this is an interesting and worthwhile project that deserves
a lot of the creative energy floating out there. Please give me
feedback on this proposal and help me in making this a success!
Cees de Groot
Last modified: Sun Jul 4 23:47:50 CEST 1999