[ Friday, 28 December 2007, michuk ]
Thousands of Polish high school students now have a chance to learn about GNU/Linux and the benefits of using free software as Polish FLOSS foundation together with school headmasters, supported by local authorities organize a series of lectures on free software in education. PolishLinux.org has a report — summary of the first 3 months of the campaign.
How all of this has started?
All this began at the beginning of 2007 when Wojciech Płoszaj, 15, a junior high student from Małopolska, South Poland, came up with the idea to spread free software in local schools. Alone he organized a few meetings in local primary and secondary schools where he presented the benefits of using Linux as the primary operating system as well as free software as an alternative to proprietary applications.
The idea was great but facing the reality (his young age and not enough resources), it was just a one-time, one-man action. That was true, until the recently-founded Poznań-based Foundation for Free and Open-Source Software (FWIOO) together with Linux vortal Jakilinux.org came to the rescue. The two bodies, organized a wiki page explaining the ideas of planned activities and encouraging young people to volunteer as speakers on similar events nationwide. The interest turned out to be enormous and surprised both Wojciech and the founding bodies. Over 200 volunteers signed up for the program during the first week. The number doubled during the next couple of weeks leaving us all with open mouths.
The need for organization
This was June 2007. Together with Rafał Brzychcy from FWIOO we started to plan the activities more seriously. We had no money to support the case, we had no connections with local or national authorities, neither too many contacts with schools themselves. We had no materials to present, no official website of the project (except for the wiki, kindly hosted on wikidot.com) and no idea how to proceed. So — we started the work…
First thing to do was to clearly draw out the areas of competence. I started to organize the community, Rafał took his mobile and started calling the “big business” and the schools.
Community, community, community, community!!!
I have to say one thing: never underestimate the power of community! Especially when your case is a good one. On the project’s wiki, we put all the TODOs — stuff that had to be done before the action officially started. We needed a decent website with original look and a forum, we needed a list of schools willing to participate, a well-prepared presentation for each of the age groups, a logo, a banner and — which is the most important — the publicity. In 3 months, just a week before the action was scheduled, we managed to achieve all that goals. And what surprised us all, much, much more!
The first visible effect of the cooperation with community was the appearance of the logo, prepared by Adam Mrówczyński, a junior designer. The logo was selected in public vote, performed on jakilinux.org website. It turned out to be more popular than many other projects, gaining more than 500 votes.
The website was created, as a common effort of Michał Środek (the design), Niedźwiedź, Hilsim and pawelbial.
Muaarthinos prepared dozens of wonderful banners and one of them was selected (this time arbitrarily, due to limited amount of time left) as the official one. We also received a couple of wallpapers, a leaflet to be displayed at schools before the presentations and some posters!
Business and authorities
Rafał had a tougher task to accomplish. He had to convince the business and the local authorities that the project is worth supporting. It was very hard at the beginning due to very high level of mistrust, especially towards the unknown, non-profit organization, which FWIOO was at that time. The turning-point was the decision of state governor — Tadeusz Dziuba — to support the action. Following this brave decision, the sponsors started to appear one by one. Rafał, together with Łukasz Nowicki, a volunteer, non-paid employee of the foundation and a board member, managed to convince over 20 officials (presidents and governors) all over Poland to officially embrace the action, thus giving schools a green light to host the volunteer free software speakers.
FWIOO’s CEO, Rafał Brzychcy, told PolishLinux.org:
Often the schools were very reserved about the project, especially during the first contact with the foundation. However we are extremely happy that most of those schools that we planned to visit, finally agreed to host us. From the surveys filled by the school officials after the presentations it seems that most of them rated both: the events in their schools and the campaign itself very positive. They also — in majority — declared that they are going to use the materials received by the sponsors for educational purposes during the computer science classes. Some of them have already done it! Also, what is very promising, more and more schools contact us first and ask the Foundation to send a volunteer for presentation. We are also receiving messages from the pupils who decided to make use of the Linux CDs given away during the events. Many of them already use two operating systems on their computers: Windows and Ubuntu. We are sure this is a step in the right direction.
You think the authorities are tough? Sure they are. But companies are near to impossible. In spite of constant pressure, we received no donations whatsoever and Rafał had to make a very tough decision to sponsor the whole event with his private money. In the end it was not all that bad since a few companies, namely: Novell, Mandriva (represented by amazis.net), Oracle and UX Systems (local Open Office vendor) offered their products to be distributed for free in the selected schools. Being a great thing it surely didn’t help to pay the phone bills.
The first event took place on October, 28th 2007 in one of Poznań’s high schools. After then a couple of presentations took place nearly every week.
Every presentation is special and on every one of them dozens of kids learned about the ideas behind free software. Children were literally fighting for the limited amount of Linux install-CDs and they didn’t believe they can legally copy it from each other without further consequences
During the first three months of the campaign the foundation managed to get to schools in five different voivodeships (Polish regions) in the middle-west Poland, namely wielkopolskie, lubuskie, zachodniopomorskie, dolnośląskie and łódzkie. The volunteers made their presentations in 30 schools in 14 cities and towns. Altogether they met with over one thousand pupils.
On average 42 pupils attended one meeting. The most — 120 — where present on a presentation made for three different schools in Poznań. Over 100 pupils attended presentations in Gorzów Wielkopolski (Zespół Szkół Elektrycznych), 90 in Poznań (I LO) and 80 in Zielona Góra (Zespół Szkół Edukacyjnych Nr 1).
The volunteers usually gave presentations in pairs, but sometimes there was only one speaker available so he had to manage it all alone. Often unpredictable situations occurred and they had to cope with them during the events. Hardware failures, unplanned rescheduling or audience being couple of times bigger than first assumed. Fortunately in most of those situations the volunteers did a very good job.
Member of the board of FWIOO, Łukasz Nowicki adds:
Schools were often negative at first, claiming not to be interested in such campaign. They needed to be convinced. In most cases the negative answers were due to the reluctance of school computer science teachers who were unwilling to learn new things and were afraid of losing their authority by giving away their field of interest to the “unknown organization”.
Often the problem was that nobody had any idea what we are talking about and what we are offering them. One of the interesting ways of saying “no” was “the school already has such thing”.
At times the contact was very hard due to a long chain of responsibility. Our invitation was often analyzed by people totally not prepared to make such decisions (e.g. by account managers). The reaction time wasn’t always as instant as we would expect. A total winner in this category was a school from Legnica. After 3 weeks of intensive every-day talks we received a “no” without any explanation. Especially “inspiring” was the fact that the computer science teacher read our invitation on the last day.
Fortunately, only about 7 percent of the invited schools finally turned us down. The vast majority was very hospitable and kind to the foundation and our volunteers and in spite of minor problems the campaign is going according to the plans.
Some schools decided to take advantage of the presentation in order to prepare a Free Software Day. Thanks to this in a few places the foundation could even better promote free and open source software by preparing quizzes, installation parties, more speeches and other interesting events during the day. Some of the schools already promised to host the volunteers and prepare a similar event next year!
What is very promising, the campaign is slowly gaining interest in the media. Lately it received patronage from Linux Magazine, a world-wide Linux paper. It was also covered in many local newspapers and radio stations, like Głos Wielkopolski or Radio Lublin.
Here are some of the pictures taken during the campaign. More pictures can be found in the gallery: FLOSS in Polish schools — gallery.
Of course, as Rafał is not a millionaire, but rather a humble entrepreneur, funding will be needed to keep the campaign alive for the next couple of years. FWIOO is still struggling with the lack of money. Although there is some hope for funds from the European Union next year, donations are highly anticipated!
If you want to send a donation, you can do it by sending a direct money transfer to:
Fundacja Wolnego i Otwartego Oprogramowania LUKAS BANK S.A. 39 1940 1076 3026 6960 0000 0000
Alternative ways of payment can be consulted with FWIOO after direct contact via email@example.com.
Plans for the future
The “FLOSS for schools” action has been so far very successful and there are plans to repeat it next year, followed by special courses for computer teachers so that they can take advantage of the free software in regular classes. There are also plans to extend the action to other countries. Hungarian local authorities already asked for help in preparing a similar set of events in schools all over the Hungary.