GOA, India, 16 October 2007
Education, collaboration and co-operation marry and merge in the Argentine classroom, through a unique volunteer-driven project called GLEducar. This project was innovative enough to earn a special mention from the jury of the first APC Chris Nicol FOSS Prize.
GLEducar takes information and communication technologies (ICTs) to school. But its goal is more than just placing computers in the classroom.
The organisation wants to change the way educational content is produced, built and shared. No less. And of course it’s all put together using free open source software (FOSS), or software libre (FLOSS), as it is known in Latin America.
GLEducar harnesses teachers, students and mentors to promote what it calls C3 (Construcción Cooperativa de Conocimiento, or Co-operative Knowledge Construction). Members of the organisation use the internet to develop content and deploy educational software.
Fundamental parts of the project are GLEducar-School and GLEducar-Web. Its five fundamental pillars are:
• building knowledge cooperatively;
• recycling and optimising the use of hardware;
• using free and legally-sharable software;
• deploying computer science to serve curricular spaces; and
• continuous upgrading and skills improvement.
Gleducar Civil Association secretary Daniel Osvaldo Cardaci explains their logic and concerns to APC-member BytesForAll co-founder and journalist Frederick “FN” Noronha, after coming out at the top end of the APC Chris Nicol FOSS Prize competition.
FN: Congrats on doing well in the contest. Tell me, what are the main challenges you face in running GLEducar?
Daniel Osvaldo Cardaci (DOC): The main challenge is scale.
We have been very successful in our localised work, but it is very difficult for a small organisation like ours to achieve an impact at a national level in such a huge country like Argentina [2.7 million sq km, population 40 million].
Another challenge is the fact that our educational system is very vulnerable to lobbying by multinational corporations. This means that any work the teachers do in C3, they must do despite the fact that the education authorities just fall short of actively discouraging it.
FN: How many staff or volunteers are involved in the project?
DOC: We have no permanent staff. All of the work is on a volunteer basis. Based on the activity in our mailing lists and on-line resources, we estimate the size of our volunteer basis at about fifteen people.
FN: As of now, the project is in Spanish?
DOC: The project is oriented towards Argentine schoolteachers and schoolchildren, most of whom only speak Spanish. So the materials produced by our project must be in Spanish.
We’d love the project to be multilingual, of course. But that is outside our current scope, mainly due to our limited resources.
FN: Is it possible to replicate your project?
DOC: It’s not just possible, it’s encouraged!
The main obstacles to doing that are the ability to attract communities with different linguistic backgrounds, and to gather enough resources. Including technical resources such as servers and bandwidth to support the workload, and human resources to keep the different communities in touch.
This may be something in which doing GLEducar in Spanish may be seen as a drawback. Having the project in Spanish means that people who would want to contribute to a multilingual approach must also speak Spanish, when English is more widespread as a language (in the global arena).
Unfortunately, trying to start the project as an English-language project in order to then localise it in Spanish would have been too heavy a burden for us.
FN: What are your plans for expansion or growth?
DOC: We want to reach many schools in an intensive way, through which we can work with authorities, teachers and students to lay the foundation for change in such a way that C3 becomes the natural way of doing things.
Once we have helped a school do this, they are asked to pay their way forward, replicating the experience together with another school in their area.
FN: Is the need for such work growing or reducing?
DOC: If you refer to the educational materials produced through C3, the demand for them is increasing.
Teachers find that the materials delivered to them in a top-down approach are unfit for class in their specific environment, or fail to match their students’ specific cultural background.
FN: Are the other similar projects in other languages across the globe?
DOC: It depends on how similar you want them to be.
SLEC in Colombia and Skolelinux in Chile have many similar aspects, but they also have their own cultural and organisational profiles.
Projects like Skolelinux or Linux K-12 also tread on common ground with GLEducar, but they place more emphasis on the technical aspects of deploying GNU/Linux at schools.