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Education Open Source Linux

Reglue: Opening Up the World To Deserving Kids With Linux Computers 91

jrepin writes: Today, a child without access to a computer (and the Internet) at home is at a disadvantage before he or she ever sets foot in a classroom. The unfortunate reality is that in an age where computer skills are no longer optional, far too many families don't possess the resources to have a computer at home. Linux Journal recently had the opportunity to talk with Ken Starks about his organization, Reglue (Recycled Electronics and Gnu/Linux Used for Education) and its efforts to bridge this digital divide.
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Reglue: Opening Up the World To Deserving Kids With Linux Computers

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  • Is 'Ken Starks' for real? For instance, the Austin School board has no knowledge of a Karen or any incident involving a pupil and a Linux CD. See slashdot [slashdot.org] of Dec 2008. See also this blog [psychocats.net] from Dec 2008. And also The Register [theregister.co.uk] of Dec 2008.
    • Ken's real - and is working hard in Texas as ever he was. Helios Project - affiliated with SPI - joined with another charity Reglue and they're still attempting to get computers to needy children and adults locally to them.

  • by TerryC101 ( 2970783 ) on Wednesday July 30, 2014 @06:04AM (#47564351)
    Before I joined my current company their equipment disposal policy was to have their old equipment picked up as General Purpose electronic scrap. It didn't take long for me to find a local charity that was re-purposing PCs by loading them with Linux Mint and giving them back to people who couldn't afford one in our local community. In the UK we follow the EU law Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment Directive https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/... [wikipedia.org] so recycling locally actually kills a few birds at the same time. We follow the law, the charity are happy to confirm that they have receive the equipment for recycling. Which also keeps our accounts people happy as they can track the write offs. Our machines are wiped down as they put a fresh Mint install in place. And we're giving something back into the community. I really don't know why more companies don't put the little bit of extra effort into putting the same kind of relationship in place.
    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by wierd_w ( 1375923 )

      I can't prove it, (and it is highly inflammatory to say), but I would hazard the following guess as to why:

      Corporations have intellectual blinders on. They are far too focused on "Beating the other guys" (financially, economically, technologically, legally, and otherwise) that the very concept of enlightened self interest-- Helping others, to promote a better environment, which they also stand to profit from-- is not given proper attention.

      Note, the company you work for only considered this charitable solut

    • by ledow ( 319597 )

      A UK-based school IT guy asks:

      Which company?

      And do they collect?

  • Opposite land (Score:5, Insightful)

    by cascadingstylesheet ( 140919 ) on Wednesday July 30, 2014 @06:14AM (#47564381)

    Today, a child without access to a computer (and the Internet) at home is at a disadvantage before he or she ever sets foot in a classroom.

    On the contrary; a child who has been reading actual books and using their imagination in play - in other words, not vegetating in front of a screen - has a huge advantage.

    • by gsslay ( 807818 )

      Congratulations, you have just created a false dichotomy.

      Having access to a computer does not prevent the reading of "actual" books, and not having access to a computer does not guarantee the reading of "actual" books.

    • I know what you're saying but disagree. The power of the internt is awesome and a child without access and without the means to learn via the internet is at a disadvantage.

    • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

      by Anonymous Coward

      It appears you do not know any pre-schoolers.

      Everybody has a tablet and they watch silly videos on Youtube. If you deprive your children from that, they become outsiders.

      School is not only about information, there is interaction with other people, too..

    • Right. Because kids from a family too poor to afford a single computer will have tons of books to read. Good point.
      • Right. Because kids from a family too poor to afford a single computer will have tons of books to read. Good point.

        Because libraries don't exist?

    • by Anonymous Coward
      It is doubtful that a child in a disadvantaged home with parents that can't afford a computer reads many books. Book reading tends to be something that is learned by watching and interacting with parents. Although it is a generalization - most parents in this category have not been passing on a love of reading to their kids. What is needed is not "get the kids a computer". What is needed is to teach the parents some skills. Budgeting perhaps (quit wasting money on smoking - a much larger percentage of peopl
      • It is doubtful that a child in a disadvantaged home with parents that can't afford a computer reads many books.

        But they might.

        So many readers here tend to think that these "give a kid a computer" programs are made up by people that think every kid is going to become an Einstein ot the next (fill in the blank genius/innovatorprogrammer)

        It's not. But the computer might fall into the hands of someone who does just that.

        Most of the kids will do just what most kids in our first world society do. Play games do their facebook or whatever the cool soc site is at the moment.

        We have no stranglehold on the "proper use

    • by lucat ( 814182 )

      Well... yes and no.
      Back when i was a kid i used to read a lot. In my life i probably read hundreds of books of any kind, from technical books to narrative to horrors to whatever i could put my hands on so i perfectly understand what you mean.
      But it is also true that in today's world (and more so in 20 years or so) the more you know about computers the better your chances will be.

      We are going through a turning point in human history. Many of today's jobs will probably be a thing of the past in the next 20-30

  • by Anonymous Coward

    was the future and game changing technology? I mean besides the fact that we can 3D print computers for these kids.

    Aren't kids brought up without a 3D printer going to be the next generation of Luddite?

  • by petes_PoV ( 912422 ) on Wednesday July 30, 2014 @06:59AM (#47564471)
    A household that can't afford $100 for a used PC isn't likely to be one that's paying for an internet connection.

    Give them a computer and it's like giving a starving man a tin of beans - but no tin opener.

    The computer is only the tool. The resource that stop children being underprivileged (in an extremely narrow, and not very practical sense) is internet access.

    • What did people do with computers before broadband became common? They ran software that came on optical discs. Encarta was a CD; why can't some relevant subset of Wikipedia be a DVD?
      • You've just managed to make me feel incredibly old. Everybody used optical disks before broadband? How about floppy disks (from 35K floppies to 1.44M stiffies)? Cassette tape? Typing in stuff from a magazine? Been there, done that.

      • by kesuki ( 321456 )

        http://www.cd3wd.com/mdownloads/index.htm [cd3wd.com]

        if it has all the information needed to rebuild civilization and can easily fit on a new $220 laptop which an old virused windows machine isn't going to have the hdd space to store it on except in the microdownloads section i linked to.

        and yes wikipidia for school (the name for the hdd distributable edition) is already there now.

    • by lucat ( 814182 )

      I am sorry but i don't agree.
      Internet is actually _very_ distracting. I belong to the pre-internet generation. Back when i was 12 the only computers that were around were MSXes, Commodores, Ataris, TRSes, Apples and some very expensive IBM compatibles which were way too expensive for most of us anyways.
      While my resources were VERY limited i learned a lot spending hours over hours on my MSX, reading and re-reading the few books i had but most of all "exploring" by trial and error. Internet was unknown to me,

  • by damienl451 ( 841528 ) on Wednesday July 30, 2014 @07:26AM (#47564533)

    Can we please stop with the "children who have no PC will be at a disadvantage in the classroom" charade? Computers are great and useful, but we don't need to pretend that they will magically help children do better in school. If anything, the limited evidence available from larger-scale voucher programs suggests that they may very well reduce test scores. Which is rather intuitive. Sure, you can use your computer to do your homework and prepare your next presentation. But you can also use it to play games or go on Facebook and Buzzfeed instead of doing more productive tasks. If you're a child with low impulse control/intrinsic motivation to study, having a PC only means one more source of distraction.

    This kind of program appeals to nerds like us because we remember getting our first PC, learning how to use Linux to set up our first home server, learning how to code, spending a lot of time online acquiring new knowledge, etc. That's literally the first paragraph of the article. But we're not the average person. Most children will not do that: ask non-nerds around you how they felt about the time their parents bought their first computer and you'll get a "meh" because, in the pre-internet era, you could easily see them as glorified typewriters if you weren't a nerd. Nowadays, the average child will start playing Flash games on the web and be content. And gaming is much more fun than doing your homework.

    I think it's also good to distinguish between "cannot afford a computer" and "does not think a computer is worth the cost". What I mean is, if instead of providing a computer or a voucher that can only be used to buy a computer, charities gave people $200 (enough to buy a Chromebook or Chromebox that's sufficient for all school-related uses), would they go out and buy a PC? Or is it a paternalistic endeavor that insists that poor households REALLY need a PC because WE couldn't live without one, so they must just not know what's good for them? Of course, if you give away something for free, people will take it. That doesn't mean they value it as much as you think they do. I see that they're trying to identify people who really need it, so kudos to them, but it's difficult and, so far, willingness to pay remains to best way to do that. Provided of course that people have enough money to have real options. This is where I start my rant about how charities are at best a stop-gap solution fraught with problems such as the fact that people always start them because they think they know what poor people REALLY need ("a PC", "no, toys", "no, cans of food", etc.). What about: a decent income so they can make their own choices rather than having to rely on handouts?

    At least, when it comes to PCs, money is quickly becoming a non-issue. A Pi with case, keyboard, mouse and Wifi dongle can be purchased for perhaps $60-$70. Spend a little more and you can buy a Banana Pi or another cheap Chinese ARM machine. When you factor in the time it takes to check that donated computers still work well, set up the Linux OS, coordinate donations, etc., I'm sure 'free' PCs end up being more expensive.

    • by mpe ( 36238 )
      I think it's also good to distinguish between "cannot afford a computer" and "does not think a computer is worth the cost". What I mean is, if instead of providing a computer or a voucher that can only be used to buy a computer, charities gave people $200 (enough to buy a Chromebook or Chromebox that's sufficient for all school-related uses), would they go out and buy a PC?

      An obvious problem with any kind of "voucher" is that the voucher value is likely to become the minimum price for the whatever.
      As is a
  • by rebelwarlock ( 1319465 ) on Wednesday July 30, 2014 @07:38AM (#47564579)
    Thing is, you can get an ISP to donate an internet connection to a school. If you have poor kids, they probably go to a poor school, so why not just hook up the school with a network of linux machines and let the kids learn there?
  • by Anonymous Coward

    A child without a computer is NOT disadvantaged. A child without food, water, shelter is disadvantaged. Computers are wonderful toys, but finding a way to grow crops, produce food and clean water is far more important.

  • Sigh. (Score:5, Insightful)

    by ledow ( 319597 ) on Wednesday July 30, 2014 @07:43AM (#47564597) Homepage

    I work in schools.

    I work in IT in schools.

    I've only ever worked in IT in schools (or colleges, or tuition centres...).

    School computers do not make better students. Home computers do not make better students. Personal computers do not make better students.

    If anything, the opposite unless they are regulated... by a teacher... in a classroom... and they have the will to learn. Guess which are the magic factors and which aren't?

    Sure, there are disadvantaged children that don't have an Internet connection, a PC, time on it, and can't fill in their homework that the school provides on its website. The number of them is VANISHINGLY small. And, usually, because of much bigger problems that have nothing to do with technology - i.e. the kinds of families that you would find had sold the PC the next week for money to buy something else. They are dozens of charities, government schemes and even schools that do this. It's not taken up en-masse unless you are giving SILLY amounts of money to it, and then it's taken up to save them paying a bill that you could have just paid for them twice over.

    And then, when I was a kid 15-20 years ago, I didn't have much access to a PC either. I came out near the top of my school. In IT. It wasn't a burden. In fact, my teachers fretted about my wasting so much time on the computers when they did come in.

    Let's get this straight - giving an old recycled PC that someone was throwing out to a kid does not give them anything. I can't give this stuff away, when I throw out dozens of desktops a year, for a reason: you can run old stuff on it, if you're careful. So instead of "no PC", they have "slow PC full of junk that either can't run or is ancient". They're better off with no PC. Sticking it onto the Internet is, again, just a recipe for disaster. Now all that rich online content, tied into the school's cloud systems, requiring all kinds of plugins... they still can't view as intended.

    Sticking them on Linux isn't going to help either. I speak as someone who HAS deployed Linux machines in schools, is never without a Linux server somewhere, and has Linux at home. And Windows. And (spit) Macs. And I was an early backer of the Raspberry Pi project. All it means is they won't be able to read their homework in a format that the teacher can send or send their homework in a format that the teacher can read. I *know* that you and *I* can do that, but this are disadvantaged kids with no PC skills stuck on an unfamiliar system that few people can help them with.

    STOP GIVING THIS CRAP TO CHILDREN in the first world. Nothing is actually *better* - they then might have to come into school and do stuff like learn. And if the kid is that disadvantaged but able to learn, there are libraries, after-school clubs, lunchtime clubs, or they can negotiate after-hours access with their schools direct - which might just help those parents struggling to leave work in order to pick them up...

    Sending this stuff to the third world doesn't help either. They have the same problems, and have to deal with too much junk.

    On top of all that, unless you're online it's pointless. The Linux educational software is NOT educational software. It's some geek's idea of educational, conforms to no curriculum whatsoever and, if you're lucky, can be crowbarred to fulfill two or three curriculum requirements over the course of a year. And if you have to put these kids online to do what they need, THAT is the cost and the expense and the problem, not what device they happen to access it from (by the time you are then, any kind of thin-client would work, backed by their school).

    Really, we need to find other ways to solve this problem, not just throw old computers at kids. It's not even as useful as throwing old library books at kids.

    • Just because it doesn't work for you in your situation doesn't mean it doesn't work for Ken where he is. That's an ignorant view of things.
      • by ledow ( 319597 )

        Agreed, in principle, but we're still allowed opinions based on experience.

        When I've worked in primary and secondary education, state and private, deprived areas and the exact opposite, it's hard to see where the advantage is at all. The above is not a post from ignorance, it's a post from someone deep inside IT inside education, who has had phone calls in my professional position from parents of deprived children begging for technical support (and they got a lot more than they hoped for, and it didn't cos

    • That is horrible advice - and it is colored by your own targeted experience.

      I have followed Ken Starks effort to provide disadvantaged children with Linux computers for 5-6 years now (maybe longer) and he is doing some amazing things. There are a lot of distros and software out there and Reglue provides an age/environment appropriate distro and software to the children that he helps. At this point there is not enough hardware available to give every disadvantaged child a computer so it is focused on thos

    • by Anonymous Coward

      I'm a (retired) Computer Science teacher...

      in high schools...

      in several countries...

      My first exposure to computers was using a keypunch machine to produce cards for a card reader on a university mainframe in either Fortran or assembly code...

      I taught dos, windoze and macs until 1995 when I discovered linux. Having been using it since. Exclusively for about 15 years now. :)

      Previous students have thanked me for introducing them to linux. Unfortunately, corrupt, computer illiterate administrators came onbo

    • The results depend more on the kid than the other circumstances. I gave a desktop and monitor to a friend's son along with some books (Norton's Inside the PC, Python for Kids, Linux, etc..). It dual boots Ubuntu and Centos. If the kid chooses to make something of it he has the tools, with or without the internet. In the developed world almost anyone can go to a library and get internet access. Adults think kids need to know how to "use" computers, but it's the kids that know how computers work and how to pi
    • Don't blame others for your incompetence as a teacher, nor your low skill with programming and Linux.

      Many kids become programmers at the age of 4 if just given the chance and the right tools.
      An old PC with Linux is great for learning, but a brand new Windows PC or an Ipad simply isn't, since they are entertainment devices, period.

  • I'm not deserving, I'm undeserving. And I mean to go on being undeserving: I like it.

  • In the immortal words of Judge Smayles: Well, the world needs ditch-diggers, too.

  • by Anonymous Coward

    Okay, who is the person without a computer in 2014? Do we have a profile of this person? Look, I've had a lot of perfectly usable computers over the years that were just too old for software development, but still worked great. No one wanted them. No one would take them. All I could do is recycle them. You literally can't give an old computer away, because I've tried. So we need to rethink this idea that there are kids who want old computers running Linux. Who are they, and why can't we match up the glut of

    • by neiras ( 723124 )

      No one wanted them. No one would take them. All I could do is recycle them. You literally can't give an old computer away, because I've tried. So we need to rethink this idea that there are kids who want old computers running Linux. Who are they, and why can't we match up the glut of surplus machines no one wants with them?

      You have no idea how many students and families are thrilled to receive a 3-year-old desktop or laptop. I've seen it. I sometimes refurbish old systems for the local horribly-underfunded school district and they are thrilled to recieve them. They are still using machines I built them 5 years ago (from even older hardware) in places. I know, personal anecdote, but this can't be rare. Need is everywhere.

      Also, groups like Free Geek [freegeek.org] exist.

    • by iamacat ( 583406 )

      Salvation army should take computers in good working order. The problem is that support and education need to go along with hardware. Your box should at least be able to run modern software and come with installation media for the same for someone to be able to support it.

  • I do not think the internet is the answer to young children. It is used only to shout "yolo" on network sites, post naked selfies and hashtags and whatsapp messages and [pick your deity] knows what. Is this is an advantage to a child? The amount of information bashing on a child's brain is so massive that it can no longer make the distinction between relevant information and nonsense. Parents of children that do not have a computer and/or internet are usually not capable of teaching their child to make this
  • In the USA you can get a low-end tablet for under $60 easy. In many urban areas you can get 768Kbps internet for under $20/month. If your carrier allows previous-generation modems (some don't) you can get a used modem dirt cheap.

    If Mom or Dad has a smart phone that acts like a hotspot you don't even need a separate internet - just make sure the kids don't use up all of your gigabytes (most low-end cell data plans in America are metered or they throttle to "2G" speed after a certan amount of usage each mont

    • by iamacat ( 583406 )

      Tablets are not the answer for serious learning. Chromebooks may be, with good guidance on finding educational websites.

  • Chromebooks are $200 new. Figure in used and people who can not afford one are in more urgent need of assistance in other areas of their lives. Once you have one, there are plenty of online tools for education, even coding.

    Internet connections are a biggie. If anyone in the family has a cell plan, tethering would be an option. It would be a huge help if wireless providers donated access, even to a very limited plan with low speed and only selected educational sites.

  • Computer hardware manufacturing is probably one of the most expensive things, environmentally speaking, in the world.

    Reusing a PC, even if it uses 2000% more energy, and requires transportation across the world, is still a net benefit to our globe.

    We need more of this, and less new hardware.

May all your PUSHes be POPped.