Software For Kids

Useful code (and games) for all …

The 4000-rupee computer shows up in Goa


Rut Pinto Viegas Jesus (yellow, right), demos a model of the OLPC at Miramar.

PANJIM, Jan 30: Goa, a small state with some early initiatives at
taking computing to students and school, scored another early attempt
when the One Laptop Per Child (OLPC) computer was demoed here at a
low-profile event.

The One Laptop per Child association (OLPC) is a non-profit
organization, created by faculty members of the MIT Media Lab, set up
to oversee The Children’s Machine project and the construction of the
XO-1 “$100 laptop”.

This tiny and unusual computer was demoed at the monthly meeting of
ILUG-Goa, the Free Software and Open Source user group that meets at
the Goa Science Centre in Miramar, last Saturday (Jan 26, 2008).

The XO-1, previously known as the $100 Laptop or Children’s Machine,
is an inexpensive laptop computer intended to be distributed to
children in “developing: countries around the world, to provide them
with access to knowledge, and opportunities to “explore, experiment and
express themselves” (constructionist learning).

The laptops can be sold to governments and issued to children by
schools on a basis of one laptop per child. Pricing is currently set to
start at US$188 and the goal is to reach the $100 mark in 2008.

But such computers are hard to come by here. This is more so as
India rejected the initiative, saying “it would be impossible to
justify an expenditure of this scale on a debatable scheme when public
funds continue to be in inadequate supply for well-established needs
listed in different policy documents.”

Ms. Rut Pinto Viegas Jesus, a Copenhagen-based PhD researcher of
Goan-Portuguese ancestry, managed to bring down one model of the
computer, while visiting Goa on holiday and a family visit to her
relations in Santa Cruz and Salcete.

OLPC, which has caused a lot of excitement worldwide, and promises
to take computing to children in the less-affluent world, espouses five
core principles — child ownership; low ages; saturation; connection;
and free and open source.

Incidentally, inspite of its small size and otherwise technological
low-rating, Goa has managed to undertake some initiatives in spreading
the use of computers, albeit with mixed results.

In the 1990s, expat Goans supported and launched the Goa Computers
in Schools Project (GCSP), which despite the odds and a number of
hurdles, shipped in a couple of containers of once-used computers, to
be refurbished and used in some local schools. Nearly 400+ computers
were distributed this way.

After the BJP government came to power in 2000, then chief minister
Manohar Parrikar launched the hi-visibility Cyberage scheme, which gave
almost-free computers to college students.

So far, the jury is out on the Cyberage scheme, with some questioning its priorities.

Critics focus on the shortcomings of a scheme which gave tens of
thousands of computers to students — sometimes more than one in a
family — without clear plans for using the same, even while school
computer labs and teachers sometimes lacked the facilities.

Meanwhile, the GCSP project was itself scaled down and wound up, due
to factors ranging from donor-fatigue and a lack of volunteers, to the
growing availability of computer hardware here, which was not as costly
as it once was.

Rut, visiting Goa this week, is doing her PhD in Copenhagen, on
issues related to the Wikipedia, the surprisingly-successful
volunteer-driven online encyclopedia that has built itself into one of
the top ten most-visited sites in the world.

Her to visit her grandmum and family in Santa Cruz and “to get some
sun”, she said: “I’m also keen to meet other Goans interested in the
stuff I am, and will bring my newly arrived XO-1 (OLPC) and that might
also be interesting.”

Earlier in January 2008, Free Software and Open Source campaigner
Venkatesh ‘Venky’ Hariharan shared his experiences in visiting an the
OLPC deployment in Khairat, which is around 55 kilometres outside

This deployment is supported by Reliance, one of the largest industrial groups in India, and is the first in India.

“The deployment is two months old and the parents, children and
teachers are very enthusiastic about this project,” reported Venky.

At the meet in Miramar, local techies, educationists and others
showed interest in the computer-for-kids, while Rut Jesus explained how
the project worked. Her friends have been involved in the project,
which she praised as “very self-motivated”.

Some voiced disappointment that India had turned down the project
without giving it a good try. Educators decried the policy of keeping
students away from playing around with technology and hard-ware.

Others pointed to tools like Gcompris, a free software suite for
children between 2 to 10 years of age, and their potential to make
learning computing a pleasurable activity.

Some queries focussed on its innovative screen, the ability to use
it “as a book”, the XO-1’s ability to ‘mesh network’ with other
computers of its kind, and how young techies could get access to the
code and specifications needed for them to contribute software back to
the project.

January 30, 2008 Posted by | Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Why Free Software makes sense in education

The name is confusing, which may explain why Free Software
isn’t as well known as Open Source. FREDERICK NORONHA makes an attempt to clear
the air

Riza is nearly five. For her, the computer is a toy.
Instead of adding one more difficult ‘subject’ to her tiring school-day, she
occasionally plays educational games on the PC.

When her friends come over, they end up
learning without even being conscious of it. One girl her age, who’s never handled
computers before, drags on the mouse. As she moves it across the mouse-pad the
image of a furry bear gets jerkily unveiled on the monitor. Another kid dances
to the music of ‘Bump And Jump’—a piece of software written by a team of Swedish

The best part is that nobody paid for the
CD these kids are using. It’s not pirated either. You can run it off any computer
by just booting up from your CD-ROM drive. It comes in a ‘distro’ (distribution)
called FreEDUC. See for more details.

Free Software is creating whole new opportunities,
and the educational system is one of its major beneficiaries globally. You have
Free Software tools to help students at all levels—from those studying in the
kindergarten to those studying complex streams of engineering. But are we in
India sitting up and taking notice?

Why ‘Free’?

Let’s start at the beginning: Its name,
which might be a bit confusing. The ‘Free’ refers to ‘Freedom’ and not a zero-cost
price. Free Software and its more-recent offshoot, Open Source, give users a
number of ‘freedoms.’ Unlike in the world of proprietary (pay-per-computer)
software, the user has the right to run a Free Software program for any purpose,
study how it works, redistribute copies, and also improve the program and release
improvements to the public.

In real terms, this means that it is extremely
difficult for anyone to charge you huge amounts for that software you so badly
need to make your PC productive—something very relevant for a resource-poor,
talent-rich country like India.

Also, because knowledge is so freely shared,
Free Software allows for very low-entry barriers. Anyone can see the source
code of a program (without which you wouldn’t have a clue how it works) or contact
coders who have played a key role in writing the program itself.

Niranjan Rajani, a South Asian researcher
based in Finland, recently put together a study titled ‘Free as in Education:
Significance of the Free/Libre and Open Source Software for Developing Countries
(FLOSS)’ In the study Rajani highlights the benefits of FLOSS. (See

Explains Rajani, “Take the example
of education. In terms of computer education, FLOSS has no match. Nothing else
provides as much value to learners as FLOSS does. You’re free to tinker with
the code. Not only that, you can get in touch with the people who wrote the
code and ask why this or that was done in a particular piece of code.”
In addition, “FLOSS has a complementary and reciprocal relationship with
education. One needs an educated section of the population to realise the full
potential of FLOSS, but at the same time FLOSS helps, enhances, and complements
education by providing tools to promote learning.”

It’s not just computer education

Free Software has a bigger role to play,
and here are ten good reasons why.

  • Not by bread alone. Because Free Software
    evangelists are not motivated solely by money, chances are that they will
    work in areas that have the highest social need, and not just those that pay
    attention to the fancies of the rich. It’s no coincidence that education is
    high on their agenda, both in India and abroad.
  • Anyone can get involved. Entry barriers
    in contributing to Free Software are very low. Educators can, and are, shaping
    this movement and how responsive it is to the needs of education.
  • Indian concerns, Indian developers. FLOSS
    makes it easy for anyone with a bright idea—and the motivation—to contribute
    to an exciting global network. In addition, the software world shows us that
    people contribute their skills and work not for money but to help others and
    share knowledge. They do it “just for fun” or because they find
    it a challenging task. They do it to develop new skills, or even in anticipation
    of indirect rewards (like improving their job opportunities).
  • Affordability. Though the ‘Free’ of Free
    Software is not about price, in cash-strapped countries like India the affordability
    of this tool makes it particularly suitable for deployment in education.
  • Worldwide support community. To scare
    users from using Free Software, one rumour floating around is that a handful
    of companies are behind this global campaign. Yet once a region builds up
    its skills—and we’re getting there in India—these skills spread fast. Dozens
    or hundreds of mailing-lists and newsgroups now exist that offer support from
    a worldwide community of users and programmers.
  • Indian-language solutions. If there are
    a few volunteers, it is possible to make rapid strides in Indianising software
    even in regional languages which proprietarial software companies might not
    see as viable. We can’t restrict computing and technology to the English-language
    speakers in this part of the globe. Networks like the Indic-computing-users
    mailing list are doing interesting work on this front.(See
  • Adapt, rebuild, reuse. You don’t have
    to re-invent the wheel. Anyone interested can adapt existing software to his
    needs. In tiny Goa, the local chapter of India Linux Users Groups rebuilt
    a distro that can be easily installed in schools by even unskilled people.

As West Bengal’s Sankarshan Mukhopadhyay—a
proponent of FLOSS who’s behind the FLOSSToday network that announces Free Software
developments in India—revealed recently, “My friends have successfully
implemented LTSP (a terminal-server that allows for the use of earlier generation
hardware) with graphics thanks to the wonderful Goa Schools CD.”

Adds Arun, who is a developer and proponent
of the GNU project from South India, “We have tested gcompris in Malayalam,
a language spoken by over 30 million people but still awaiting computing solutions
in many spheres. Some games like typing tutor need to be modified for Indian
languages.” gcompris (French for ‘I understand’) is an international educational

  • The interest is there. In India itself
    a number of groups are working to adapt Free Software to education. There’s
    even one called LIFE. This list may be contacted at
  • If this won’t work, nothing will. In the
    software world, the FLOSS movement has shown its ability to produce results.
    Maybe even better results than the dominant model of software production.

Pointers to getting started

Using Free Software often means that you
need an additional operating system (OS) to run it. (Some software on CDs like
GNUWin or The Open CD run on the Windows platform. But this is rare.) You can
install a new OS alongside an existing OS like Windows, provided you have the
space for it.

You should also be able to access much
of your earlier work in GNU/Linux, unless it is created under proprietarial
file formats. GNU/Linux-based computing can achieve almost everything that a
computer run on proprietarial software can—and more.

Free Software CDs can be download from
the Net (a laborious process given the slow lines most of us use in India),
or copied quite legally from friends. They can even be purchased from outlets
in Bangalore or Mumbai, Belgaum or Pondicherry, at a price of Rs 25-50 per CD.
Many Indian cities have GNU/Linux user-groups called LUGs or GLUGs. Find a list
on or check Paid services are also available,
but if you are expecting friendly neighbourhood support, a little bit of politeness
could bring you the kind of support that money simply can’t buy.

  • For a listing of case-studies of GNU/Linux’s use in education,
  • Schoolforge works to promote free and open resources for education.
    Join Schoolforge-discuss at One
    condition is that members must participate in discussions. As the volunteers
    say, “We are all busy, but we are doing our best to collaborate
    whenever possible.” They also encourage the setting up of Schoolforge
    units and meeting places.
  • Recently, a project has been started to produce a free school administration
    software package. It is at the planning stage, and needs volunteers
    to help define the requirements of the system and assist with the construction
    of it. See
  • Some useful mailing lists include the demo-schools network in South
    India (, the international Schoolforge
    (, and the Linux-Delhi schools network
  • Also see and
Tools available

Below are some of the tools available with the gcompris, drgenius and
other GNU/Linux packages.

  • junior-math: Basic arithmetic. Q&A.
  • junior-toys: Simple toys to adorn your desktop.
  • junior-typing: Typing tutor.
  • tuxtype: Educational Typing Tutor Game starring Tux.
  • gperiodic: Periodic Table.
  • ding # Language learning. (default: German-English.)
  • 12e: English to Spanish translation dictionary. Multiple versions
    of pool (billiards) games.
  • ksokoban: Excellent game to teach logic.
  • mathwar: A flash card game designed to teach maths.
  • garlic: [Chemistry] A free molecular visualisation programme.
  • ghemical: A GNOME molecular modelling environment.

(Also Debian junior games for the network, simulation games, text-based
games, junior Internet tools, junior programming, junior puzzles, junior
system tools and ucblogo—a dialect of lisp using turtle graphics
famous for teaching kids.)

October 6, 2003 Posted by | Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Computer education for rural kids riddled with obstacles

By Frederick Noronha

There are plans afoot to computerise thousands of rural schools across India, attended mainly by poor children. But where is the software that is suitable for use in these schools?

WHY IS it easier for Indian school students to use the computer to study the geography of the United States, rather than know the states of their own country better? What is the fate of students in non-English schools who want to learn how to use computers optimally? In a word, are we producing suitable software to cope with the needs of our own schools?

These issues come up regularly to haunt educationists keen to give school-children better access to computers. More so, when the students come from underprivileged or poor backgrounds, are familiar only with regional languages, and study in resource-poor government schools.

“Availability of suitable (educational software) material in the Kannada language is next to nil,” complains engineer S Jayaraman. He is a consultant to the Azim Premji Foundation (APF), a philanthropic network started by Bangalore’s prominent IT house.

The APF has plans to computerise around a thousand rural schools, attended mainly by children of the poor. So far it has managed around three dozen. This too has not been problem-free. Plans to set up these ‘community learning centres’ which could be used in the evenings by general villagers have, among other things, been hit by a lack of relevant software.

“Some of the (commercial software producers) are offering syllabus-based learning,” says Jayaram. Much of the ‘educational software’ available is in English, and better suited to foreign students rather than Indian needs. Others firms have simply taken textbooks and dumped it onto a CD.

Some of the other problems the Azim Premji Foundation has to struggle with include finding sufficiently motivated teachers close-by, difficult infrastructure (high and ultra low-voltage power), reluctance of school authorities to open access to villagers outside school hours, and the like.

But the Foundation is already reporting that putting computers in rural schools has boosted attendance, and that admissions to otherwise-ignored government schools has also improved.

APF has been able to make use of two specific software — one a Karnataka-based treasure hunt, giving information on the state’s various districts; and the other called ‘Brainstorm’ that helps students practise simple Arithmetic concepts.

C V Madhukar of the APF stresses that the foundation has taken up “primary education as our target, not so much as philanthropy but more as problem-solving”. He said the possible agenda on this front could revolve around computer-based content creation (either teacher-centred or child-centred content); TV-based content; setting up Community Learning Centres; and facilitate the donation of used PCs from companies to schools.

Tia Sircar of the Bangalore-based TeLC (The e-Learning Consortium) also stresses the need to look at the ‘content needs’ of the Indian rural masses. She points to the success of some experiments like the Pratham initiative of computer training in Mumbai, which Sircar says has been a “vast success”.

Sircar concedes that students across the country feel the need to study English. But without regional language software, the aim of making India a computer-literate nation would simply not happen, as educationists agree.

Others wanting to promote computers in schools have also faced similar problems. From the west coast, the Goa Computers-in-Schools Project (GCSP) is an Internet-based alliance between overseas Goans and those here to help spur on attempts to give schools in the state access to more computers.

Recently, the GCSP managed to finally get the Central government to allow Customs-free import of once-used computers from abroad to non-elitist, non-commercial privately run schools. This is particularly relevant in Goa, a state where much of school education is privately managed.

Such measures could allow overseas expats to send in donated and once-used computers by the containerful, on just paying the freight charges. But software questions remain. In the past too, some linked to this network have raised questions about the ethics of using pirated proprietorial software in schools, where students are supposed to be taught to follow a principled approach to life.

Other approaches are being tried out. Aware of this acute lack of educational software, the small but active network across India that promotes Open Source and ‘free’ software is also beginning to pay some attention to the issue.

Prof Nagarjuna G of the Tata Institute of Fundamental Research in Mumbai has set up a Internet based mailing-list to study the potential in school education of GNU-Linux, the Open Source and ‘free’ software. Life can be contacted via Life-admin@hbcse.tifr.res.inThis e-mail address is being protected from spam bots, you need JavaScript enabled to view it while the website is at

There are other global websites like which offer megabytes for education software on a CD for prices ranges between three to six dollars. Programs offered include First_math (a maths quiz game), Anton (a challenging maths game), Cindrella (commercial interactive geometry software), Linux Letters (learning game for children from 2-up for letters and numbers), TuxType (typing tutor), Gnerudite (a Scrabble-clone), Across (to generate your own crossword puzzles), Qvocab (to increase your foreign language vocabulary), Lingoteach (to learn foreign languages), Atomix (a molecule-creation game), LOGO (tool for children to learn programming).

This might be helpful, but doesn’t quite solve the main problem at hand.

Linux is still, unfortunately, seen as a “geeks’ operating system”. So, support available is relatively limited, specially in remote rural areas. In addition, again the problem of having relevant, local-language educational software remains.

On the positive side, there are some signs of hope. Local GNU-Linux enthusiasts are showing signs of growing interest to build India-relevant software applications, and the educational sector could benefit too.

Committed supporters of Linux do appreciate that for their Operating System to grow in popularity, it should have something specifically relevant to Indian needs. Bangalore incidentally could be called one of the Linux capitals of India, with its active network of supporters and enthusiasts who showcase their work through events like the in November and the Banglinux held in early summer each year.

Others are also trying out their own initiatives.

Dr Pavanaja, a scientist who was earlier with the Bhabha Atomic Research Centre in Mumbai and now devotes his time to promoting computer usage in Kannada through the Kannada Ganaka Parishad (see, agrees that relevant software is sorely lacking in regional languages.

“The only field IT has failed to change dramatically is education. Computers can remake education. It is indeed time to begin,” says he.

He points to his own initiatives. ‘Kannada-Kali’ is a software that generates a jig-saw puzzle from Kannada alphabets. One has to fit the pieces in the right place, thus enabling youngsters or those not knowing the Kannada language to practise on its alphabet. “I don’t claim you can learn Kannada using this. But it is an entry point,” says Dr Pavanaja.

He has also put together a Kannada version of LOGO, the logic-oriented, graphic-oriented software that is used as a tool to teach young children the basic concepts needed for programming. It is still under development. So far, only a few keywords required for the LOGO program have been completed. Some 300 more keywords are yet to be done.

Dr Pavanaja is more than open to the idea of freely sharing his ‘intellectual property’. In fact, the Kannada-Kali program has a prominently distributed message: “Feel free to distribute this among your Kannada friends.” In such a situation of scarcity, it is indeed laudable to see some of those working on such themes to be more than willing to share the fruit of their labour generously, without thinking about monetary gain.

Of course, at the end of the day, much of the Indian educational software scarcity simply boils down to a question of economics. In spite of their millions-strong numbers, the rural dweller simply doesn’t have the purchasing power. So why should anyone bother with writing software specifically for him? Even if this is a country that is increasingly claiming the status of being the world’s software superpower.

(Frederick Noronha is a freelance journalist based in Goa-India interested in developmental issues)

January 4, 2001 Posted by | Educational, Free Software, Proprietorial Software | , , | 1 Comment