Open source software at schools: Ministry of IT and Communications discloses its plans

March 14, 2008, Fri 1:27 PM  

One of the most profound consequences of educational institutions informatization, which implies establishing at least one computer room in every Russian school with internet connection at not less than 128 Kbit/sec, is the increase in claims against using unlicensed software on school computers. After a long trial named Ponosovs Case the director of a rural school accused of illegal exploitation of Microsoft programs has become popular both in Russia and abroad. The given event and a series of claims against educational institutions in various Russian regions have accelerated the large-scale project to develop distributives on the basis of the open source software to be used in educational institutions across Russia.

In July 2007 the presidium of the Council on priority national projects approved the initiative of the RF Ministry of IT and Communications to develop a domestic open source software package. If Russia is not independent in software, then it is rather complicated to maintain independence in other sectors, - said Dmitry Medvedev. 59.5 mln rubles ($2.501 mln) have been allocated within the federal budget to develop and implement open source software packages in pilot regions. In 2009 650 mln rubles ($27.325 mln) is planned to be spent to install domestic software on all PCs and adaptation of applications developed earlier.

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Maksut Shadaev, director of Department of State Programs, infrastructure development and use of scare resources at the RF Ministry of IT and Communications: Schools are given a choice

The open source software development and installation at budgetary institutions and government agencies depend on the outcome of the mentioned above project. The first results of the open source distributives development, their testing and further technical and informational maintenance were discussed at the Organizational meeting to report about the composition of the open source software package, delivery procedure and further usage held under the aegis of the RF Ministry of IT and Communications. Rosobrazovanie. Representatives of educational institutions also participated in the given meeting. The given event was organized by the CNews Confereces.

Free alternative

According to the opinion poll of the constituent entities of the Russian Federation held in February 2007 one of the most urgent problems in equipping education institutions with modern ICT is a very low level of licensing support for the software used, - says Stanislav Filippov, deputy director of the department of education informatization at the Federal Agency for Education (Rosobrazovanie). At the same time the park of PCs exploited in about 60 thousand Russian schools amounts to about 700 thousand devices, according to the RF Ministry of IT and Communications. The park growth rate is estimated at 15-20% a year.

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Development of the necessary standard distributives to help several budgetary institutions migrate to the open source software is under consideration

3-year licenses for proprietary software used at schools have been bought to improve the existing problems. The given project has been called the First Aid 1.0. Development of the open source software packages has been simultaneously launched to be handed over to educational institutions free of charge. The given step will significantly reduce our dependence on foreign software, - says Leonid Reiman, RF Minister of IT and Communications. In 2008 the Russian software packages will be tested in three pilot regions. In 2009 domestic software will be installed on every school computer.

To select a company to carry out the current project a tender was held. The Armada Group of Companies, which set up an alliance consisting of ALT Linux, Linux Ink, Linux-Online, the Russian Research Institute for nonindustrial automation management, Ramec, and the National Center for IT, has won the tender. According to Armadas bid the contract costs 59,5 mln rubles. One of the key advantages of the consortium is a developed partnership network and its own software repository, i.e. Sisyphus, which is one of the five largest open source software packaged worldwide (laureate of CNews Awards 2007).

The project key tasks include development of the open source software package for the most popular hardware configurations used at educational institutions, creation of learning and teaching materials to use the open source software packages in the process of education, methodology and technology development to implement and maintain the open source software packages at educational institutions in Russia. 5 distributives have been developed. Two of them are being tested now, - says Igor Gorbatov, Armadas deputy director general.

Thus, schools are given a choice, - says Maksut Shadaev, director of Department of State Programs, infrastructure development and using scare resources at the RF Ministry of IT and Communications. In 2009 all schools having received the open source software packages and valid license agreements under the project First Aid 1.0 will be able to decide what software to use in the future.

Equipment Configuration for Open Source Software Packages

Technical requirements
Standard configuration No1 Processor x86-32 (233 MHz); 128 MB RAM; CD-ROM;
SVGA-monitor (1024x768, no less than 256 colors); keyboard, mouse.
Standard configuration No 2 Processor x86 (667 MHz); 256 MB RAM; DVD-ROM;
SVGA-monitor (1024x768, no less than 256 colors); keyboard, mouse.
Standard configuration No 3 Processor x86 (1.5 GHz); 1024 MB RAM; DVD-ROM;
SVGA-monitor (1024x768, no less than 16.7 mln colors); keyboard, mouse.
Terminal server Distributives are for school computer rooms with a server. Programs pupils are working with are run on a server, while pupils computers being used only to display and enter information (the so called thin clients). The main burden falls on the server, while the hardware requirements for computers are very low (32MB RAM).
That is a special solution developed by the project performer in 2007 in addition to key open source software package configurations for educational institutions.

Source: Rosobrazovanie, 2008

Among the advantages of the open source software package is more flexible adaptation to national school specificity, first of all due to versions that support national languages and significant potential to develop programming skills of senior class pupils. Software should be used as an instrument to develop users, - says Alexander Ponosov, a school teacher at the village Sepych, deputy chairman of the Free Technology Center. Igor Gorbatov, deputy director general of the group of companies Armada: 'Linux is an education kit. At the same time according to Viktor Alksnins, the RF State Duma deputy and president of the Free Technology Center, migration to active implementation of the open source software at schools and in other state-financed administrative organizations results in the decrease in dependence on foreign software vendors and provides for the state information security.

Various developers open source software test results

Name of open source software package tested configuration Test results
Lightweight Linux configuration No1

Fully comply with requirements.

Linux Junior configuration No 2
Linux Master configuration No 3
Linux Terminal
School Linux all configurations Basically meet the requirements (with comments).
NauLinux all configurations
Mandriva Linux all configurations

Problems with copyright and assembly environment.

XUbuntu configuration No 1
KUbuntu configuration No 2, 3

Source: Rosobrazovanie, 2008

Currently the open source software packages are being tested in pilot regions, 10-15 leader schools having been chosen in each of them. Thus, about 40 schools are enlisted at the first sage.

Testing and submitting comments are held till April 15. The distributives will be worked off in accordance with testing results and comments till May 15. Furthermore, till May 31st training courses and methodical materials are to be prepared. After that up to 1,000 schools will be covered and then other 2,000 schools, which makes up 50% of urban and 20% of rural schools in the mentioned constituent territories of the Russian Federation. By September 1st the open source software packages are planned to be installed on every computer at the mentioned schools. The given package consists of the Linux OS, software to create and edit electronic tables and presentations, manage data bases, e-mail, software and provide for information security, to work with music, graphic software, the Pascal language programming software and a range of other programs.

The software interface is being developed depending of the age groups of pupils.


In 2009 the domestic software will be installed on every school computer

Thus, for junior pupils a more simplified version of the software will be developed than for the senior ones. Furthermore, any application developed on the basis of the future domestic open source software package might be used free of charge on any school computer. The open source software is expected to be constantly developing in accordance with the training level of pupils.

Support for everyone

According to one of the teachers that participated in the organizational meeting nothing will happen without any feedback from teachers. As teachers need operational assistance three types of support have been developed, including call centers, e-mail assistance and requests on the project site. One will have to wait for no more than 2 minutes for an operator to answer.

Support regulations and context

Support Regulations

Three communication channels: call-center in the regional center, e-mail, request through the project site.

  • From 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. on weekdays till September 1st.
  • From 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. from Monday to Saturday since September 1st.
  • Operators response time is up to 2 minutes.

Main issues to be resolved through support

  • Support is provided on installation, setting, standard use of open source software packages
  • Support on using training materials provided within pilot implementation.
  • Support on schools hardware compatibility with open source software packages.

Support levels

  • First level support of users, open source software usage, response to frequently asked questions (regional level).
  • Second level administrative support, open source software installation and setting, compatibility with client hardware (no improvements required).
  • Third level development support, open source software improvement, elimination of mistakes, compatibility with client equipment (improvements are necessary), documentation and training material development.
  • Visiting educational institution in especially difficult circumstances.

Source: Alt Linux, 2008

A three-level technical support and assistance through instructional materials are to help teachers use the open source software packages in education more efficiently and gain the necessary experience. Furthermore, the open source software is provided with unofficial assistance of the community, - says Alexey Novodvorsky, deputy director of Alt Linux, which is sure to improve efficiency when operating on the open source software packages.

Migration of the training programs developed under MS Windows is no less important, says Alexander Yashukov, deputy director of the Information Analytical Center at the RF Moscow Department of Education. According to Aleksey Novodvorsky, developers are ready to help in improving the software, and if there is a program code, then the issue is in the code portability.

In 2009 all Russian schools are planned to be provided with the domestic open source software regarding the experience received in the pilot regions. The possibility to develop the necessary standard distributives to transfer some of the state-owned agencies to the open source software to carry out administrative functions at schools and policlinics in the future is considered. In case the given projects are successfully implemented, several state agencies might migrate to the open source software.

Sergey Shalmanove / CNews Analytics

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