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Italian LUG turns Pakistani school into educational model

By Marco Fioretti on September 24, 2008 (9:00:00 PM)

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The students of a missionary school in Pakistan, from first graders to graduates, have become enthusiastic Edubuntu users thanks to the cooperation between their administrator and an Italian LUG.

Padre (Father) Aldino Amato is an Italian missionary who has been working for 25 years in the schools of the Rosary Christian Hospital, a nonprofit charitable institution in the village of Rehmpur, near to the city of Okara in the Pakistani province of Punjab. In 2006, during a holiday in Italy, a friend suggested Amato publish in an Italian missionary newletter a request for all the things his schools needed but couldn't find easily in Pakistan. The first item on that list was computers. A newsletter reader pointed Amato to Golem (Gruppo Operativo Linux EMpoli), an Italian Linux user group (LUG) founded in 2000 in Empoli, a Tuscan town about 30 kilometers west of Florence.

Golem is particularly active in the "trashware" sector; it collects and fixes thrown-away computers and gives them away, after installing Linux of course, to schools, nonprofit organizations, and other users. In 2004 Golem sent a few PCs to a school in Somalia and, later, others to schools in Benin and Cameroon.

When Amato discovered this, he immediately wrote to Golem:

I have more than 2,000 students from kindergarden to senior high and only one computer. I'd need at least 50 more, since Pakistani school regulations state that computer training should be at least 40 minutes every day. Can you help me? I'd really like to help my students learn new technologies.

No problem, answered Golem member Maurizio Pertici. In a few months the LUG managed to put together and ship to Rehmpur 43 computers complete with mouse, keyboard, and monitor, plus one eight-port hub, one modem, and four speakers. With the exception of a few machines where a hardware issue prevented it, Golem installed Edubuntu on them all.

Simply putting the machines together didn't end the task. Every PC shipped to Rehmpur had a unique hardware configuration, being a collage of recycled pieces, and there would be nobody in the field with enough Linux experience to fix even the slightest issue, so the Golem guys tested thoroughly that every set of computer, mouse, keyboard, and monitor was working properly before packing it. They also preconfigured the users and network interfaces in such a way to reduce to the absolute minimum the technical work necessary in Pakistan.

Several characteristics of free software held in great esteem in western countries are pretty worthless in most of the rest of the world, when they don't almost become problems. Year-long uptimes don't matter when a PC can't be powered on, in the best case, for more than 60 minutes in a row, nor does security. Using computers only for very short periods and being almost always offline is also an excellent antivirus technique. Easy and automatic software update procedures via yum or apt-get lose almost all their appeal.

Nevertheless, as you can see by the photograph here of ninth grade students learning Linux, and from the other pictures on the Golem Web site, the computer lab is up and running. The only "hardware" problem the students had was getting used to Italian keyboards, since they use the English alphabet. The first feedback from Padre Amato to Pertici was, "The computers are doing great! It really feels like a miracle! My students are jumping out of their skin for the joy of being able to use so many computers almost every day."

This summer, a year and a half after the arrival of the computers, Amato confirmed to me that it still looks like a miracle:

I had dreamed so many times that some day the indigent students of my schools could learn to use computers, and finally this isn't a dream anymore. Today, even the children of the first five grades answer without hesitation when you ask them how a computer works and love to use all the educational software for their age included in Edubuntu.

Amato has been able to hire a technician to teach computer education to ninth and tenth graders and maintain the school's software and the hardware. More computers should arrive from Italy this fall; Padre Amato's hope is that it will be possible to set up at least some of them for about 40 blind students, ideally with something similar to the Open Book system.

A major impact

Many European and North American schools take computer labs for granted, as they do electricity. In places like Rehmpur, however, the impact of a computer lab is bigger and deeper. Computers are cool tools for helping students get a good education and eventually a good job -- but that's not the main reason why Amato is so grateful to Golem for its help.

What makes him happiest is feeling the self-confidence and sense of empowerment that access to the computers gives to all his students. In Pakistan, he explained, the word "English" isn't used only to specify a nationality or language: due to the history of this contry, "English" may also be used to mean "superlative, of such a high quality that only the elites can afford it."

He says most students in developing countries see computers only on TV, billboards, or magazine pictures. Thanks to this lab, the schools of Rosary Christian Hospital have joined the ranks of what people in the province call advanced or pilot schools. When parents coming from distant villages to pick up their children find them sitting in front of a computer, Amato says, "They're amazed and sometimes whisper to themselves, 'This really is an English School!'"

Of course, jobs like these are never finished. After the successes in Padre Amato's schools, all the other priests in the area have repeatedly asked him to help find computers for their schools, hospitals, and other local charitable institutions. If you can help, please contact Padre Amato by email or send him a letter at Rosary Christian Hospital - Rehmpur 6/4.I, Okara, Pakistan.

Marco Fioretti is the author of The Family Guide to Digital Freedom and contributes regularly to Linux.com and other IT magazines.

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on Italian LUG turns Pakistani school into educational model

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Italian LUG turns Pakistani school into a educational model

Posted by: Anonymous [ip: 67.162.57.111] on September 25, 2008 06:06 AM
'In Pakistan, he explained, the word "English" isn't used only to specify a nationality or language: due to the history of this contry, "English" may also be used to mean "superlative, of such a high quality that only the elites can afford it."'

Really? Who the hell is this guy to make a blanket statement in such a condescending manner? I'm all for Open Source and Linux increasing the quality of life for everyone on the planet, but that statement immediately detracts from the impact of the article. I've been to Pakistan and that translation/interpretation of the word is not accurate on a national level. Possibly in some more remote cities it might hold true, I can't say, but in this increasing age of globalization you need to watch the blanket statements you make about a nation or group of people.

I do however applaud the community, the extra effort, and the cooperation that it took to put this in place! Knowing that my old equipment makes an impact is what keeps me donating all the usable machines that I come across whether they be from my clients or myself.

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Re: Italian LUG turns Pakistani school into a educational model

Posted by: Marco on September 25, 2008 07:06 AM
"Who the hell is this guy to make a blanket statement in such a condescending manner?"

Padre Amato is a missionary who's been permanently living and working in Pakistan since the 1950's. If he says that "English" has that meaning, personally I'm pretty confident we can safely substitute your "Possibly in some more remote cities it might hold true" with "it IS true, outside main cities".

Now, the "in Pakistan" initial part of that sentence was indeed added by me to Padre Amato's quote. But that's because this is what I deduced from all the context of our original, quite longer conversation.

This said, please rest assured that any condescension is only in your mind. There never was nothing at all like condescension in what Padre Amato wrote to me or in my own writing. That sentence is just plain, factual, neutral information which is necessary to understand the one which follows.

Frankly, while I had imagined that a few readers from UK may go as far to complain for that kind of a hint to the past role of their country in Pakistan, I had not foreseen nothing like this comment. I'm baffled, really.

Marco Fioretti


[Modified by: Marco on September 25, 2008 07:09 AM]

[Modified by: Marco on September 25, 2008 07:10 AM]

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Re(1): Italian LUG turns Pakistani school into a educational model

Posted by: Anonymous [ip: 194.66.190.3] on September 25, 2008 11:40 AM
I'm a little confused by this response too, Marco. Maybe the word elite was taken out of context? Your article refers to English quality being affordable by Pakistani elite. We never see the Japanese argue when they have been complemented on the quality of their electrical goods or cars, for instance (or Italians for style and high performance cars etc.). Being from the UK, I believe we should take this as a compliment.

As for this project, I was involved in a similar one last year with a local church. We shipped 60 computers to some orphanages in the Ukraine. I installed Edubuntu 6.06 LTS on the majority after the hardware was tested/fixed. We were lucky because we had a few batches of similar PCs donated by local schools. Once I'd wiped them with Darik's Boot n Nuke, I was able to load Edubuntu on a few of them, download updates and Ukraine language packs and then image them using Mondo/Mindi to transfer to the others. This last step speeded the process up considerably.

I haven't yet recieved feedback about how these machines were recieved (they were due to be delivered last month) but advice to the Padre:

Try to get donations from schools, government departments or companies. As long as you can verify the datawiping they may even pay you to take them away. The bigger benefit though is from recieving several computers with the same spec. which helps with the installs - imaging one install (once set up and configured) and copying to others.

We found we had more CRT monitors than we knew what to do with. I was hoping we could use older hardware as thin clients because we had a server donated but I couldn't get my head round setting them up and I was pushed for time. Anyway, it's great to hear about these projects being a success.

Rob

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Re(2): Italian LUG turns Pakistani school into a educational model

Posted by: Anonymous [ip: 194.66.190.3] on September 25, 2008 12:00 PM
Sorry - above advice should go to the LUG. Well done to the Padre though for spotting the potential of GNU/Linux and open source software and all those people at the LUG involved and the edubuntu project!

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Re(2): Italian LUG turns Pakistani school into a educational model

Posted by: Marco on September 25, 2008 02:26 PM
"I'm a little confused by this response too, Marco. Maybe the word elite was taken out of context?"

Sorry, Rob, I'm not sure if by "this response" you mean mine or the one to which I replied. Please add quotes of what exactly confused you explaining why, so that both I and the anonymous guy who wrote the first comment know who should answer, thanks.

Your article refers to English quality being affordable by Pakistani elite.

My article reports the fact that (at least in the province where Padre Amato works) many Pakistani call "English" anything which is so good and in any case so expensive that only elites (as in "really rich people", regardless of nationality) can afford it. Nothing more, nothing less.

Best Regards,

Marco Fioretti

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Italian LUG turns Pakistani school into a educational model

Posted by: Anonymous [ip: 67.162.57.111] on September 25, 2008 06:19 PM
"My article reports the fact that (at least in the province where Padre Amato works) many Pakistani call "English" anything which is so good and in any case so expensive that only elites (as in "really rich people", regardless of nationality) can afford it. Nothing more, nothing less."

I don't agree with this statement above, you state:

'In Pakistan, he explained, the word "English" isn't used only to specify a nationality or language: due to the history of this contry, "English" may also be used to mean "superlative, of such a high quality that only the elites can afford it."'

I emphasize the "In Pakistan" part of this statement as the offending comment, which you yourself admit to adding to the one made by Padre Amato. This is similar to attributing a comment made by rural Appalachians in the US to all Americans. I guarantee that the statements made in one portion of a nation does not hold true to other areas and people.

You contend the point that people in the UK might be offended by a reference to their role in the Indian subcontinent, but how do you think the Pakistanis feel about it? Do all victims hold their prior aggressors in high regard and esteem? No, and to imply that is offensive. This paragraph does very little to further the point that you are making in the article, especially since it is anecdotal and subject to interpretation, and the paragraph would have quite easily stood on its own with just the first sentence: "What makes him happiest is feeling the self-confidence and sense of empowerment that access to the computers gives to all his students."

Cheers

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Re: Italian LUG turns Pakistani school into a educational model

Posted by: Marco on September 25, 2008 10:04 PM
I emphasize the "In Pakistan" part of this statement as the offending comment, which you yourself admit to adding to the one made by Padre Amato.

I have already explained that I added those two words not out of my imagination, but extrapolating from the whole context of my whole conversation with Padre Amato, quite longer than it shows in the article. While it may still be an excessive generalization, this is what happened. This said:

You contend the point that people in the UK might be offended by a reference to their role in the Indian subcontinent, but how do you think the Pakistanis feel about it? Do all victims hold their prior aggressors in high regard and esteem? No, and to imply that is offensive.

you are saying that a sentence like "this is something so good that only the elites can afford it" is equivalent to, or automatically implies, "holding the elite which can afford that something in high regard and esteem". Such an equivalence, just like the "condescension" from which we started, only exist in your mind. Please don't be surprised if I'll simply ignore your comments on this issue from now on.

Marco F.

[Modified by: Marco on September 25, 2008 10:06 PM]

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Italian LUG turns Pakistani school into a educational model

Posted by: Anonymous [ip: 58.27.163.72] on September 26, 2008 08:17 AM
@Anonymous
I am from the same province(Punjab), and I can tell you that many(not all, maybe not the majority) people in Punjab did not consider the English being the aggressors. In this regard, Punjab is different from other parts of the country.

I am from Lahore, the second largest city in Pakistan, so I can not tell you which terms are used in the rural area or even small towns. But if someone from a small town or village says its "English", I believe it. A few years ago the term used, in the cities, might have been "Imported".

As far as education sector is concerned, the term "English medium", as opposed to "Urdu medium", rules Pakistan.

In my opinion, Padre (Father) Aldino Amato has all the right to make any comment about the country of his residence by choice.

Asad

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Re: Italian LUG turns Pakistani school into a educational model

Posted by: Marco on September 27, 2008 08:28 AM
I am from the same province(Punjab), and I can tell you that many(not all, maybe not the majority) people in Punjab did not consider the English being the aggressors... In my opinion, Padre (Father) Aldino Amato has all the right to make any comment about the country of his residence by choice.

Asad,

thank you for your support and for the extra information you provided. I confirm once more, hoping that this will really settle this (after all, irrelevant) issue, that both explanation given to me and the spirit with which I used in the article where absolutely neutral. They were simply meant to explain why a parent in that area would use the particular word "English" the way mentioned in the article, without implying any judgement of any kind on Pakistani, English and so on.

If you have other information about FOSS usage in Pakistan, please let me know via email (marco, at digifreedom _ dot_ net), I'm always interested.

Best Regards,

Marco

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Italian LUG turns Pakistani school into educational model

Posted by: Anonymous [ip: 119.30.68.39] on September 28, 2008 11:31 AM
I am from punjab also and i don't see anything wrong with Marco's language. English IS considered elite in most circumstances, which i personally think shouldn't be that way but colonial leftovers take centuries to remove and we are only 50 years old. I don't know Asad's contribution in FOSS/FLOSS movement but i have been a lifelong advocate of free software and anti-copyright movements. You can google my name for that. Minhaaj ur Rehman. I have been providing training in remote areas of Pakistan about web 2.0 tools, linux, wiki skills and have been giving lectures online and offline about open source initiative. I have totally seen supermacy of English language and hence the privileged class in most areas. That was totally an irrelevant discussion and display of emotion Asad and i applaud Marco for his work in Pakistan. Way to go Sir.

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