Supporting Our Community: Linux Clubs

Linux Professional Institute offers a lot of cost-free services to our communities. We don’t have to make money on everything we do. LPI is a non-profit outfit, so as long as we earn enough to sustain the organization we can seek out creative ways to serve our mission, which is to promote the use of open source by supporting the people who work with it.

This article looks at a relatively new initiative called Linux Clubs for educational institutions. LPI launched this effort in November 2022 to empower students and teachers in high schools and colleges as well as the schools themselves and people in their communities.

Why we need open source software in the schools

When you walk through the offices and classrooms of your local school, you’ll probably find PCs running Windows, along with some iPads and maybe Mac computers. Free and open source software is hard to find.

Major vendors offer deep discounts to educational institutions for proprietary products, sometimes even bolstered by outright donations. Yes, there is a social benefit to providing low-cost computing to these institutions. But it would be even better if they ran on completely free systems: free as in freedom, as goes the slogan of the Free Software Foundation.

People develop habits that guide future choices when they’re young. (Don’t you still have a preference for the music you listened to as a teenager?) So students exposed to computer technology feel more comfortable sticking with that technology as they go to college and enter the workplace.

When software is free, students can tinker with it and learn some basic programming while adapting it to their environments. Wouldn’t it be great if a splash screen displayed a message relevant to the students instead of a corporate logo?

Many programs for teachers are available as open source, and basic tools needed by students for writing, science, and creative efforts can be found in the open source community too.

So Linux Clubs are being formed both to strengthen computer education and to familiarize students with open source at a young age. Forming a club usually requires less negotiation with school managers and so can be done fairly easily.

But clubs can serve broader goals as well. Once students and teachers have mastered their systems, they can show administrators how to bring free and open source software into the administrative systems used by the school. This software can run on computers that would formerly be discarded as old. GNU/Linux has rescued many computers that Microsoft says are too old or underpowered for its software.

Students and teachers can also provide computers to people in the local community who can’t afford more than a thousand dollars to buy a proprietary computer.

How Linux Clubs got off the ground

Linux clubs grew from an earlier project called Penguin Corps, which was founded by Stu Keroff, a high-school teacher who has run a computer science club focused on Linux and open source for more than ten years. (Watch this video introduction or listen to this podcast.)

LPI leadership has grown closer to Keroff over the years and decided recently to adapt his PenguinCorp model and add free LPI certification exams to form the Linux club model. Keroff has written a guide to starting a club.

Linux Clubs had a very modest launch. An announcement went up on the LPI discussion site. Teachers have started signing up. A is available. A “Black Friday” promotion offered discounts on LPI exams to raise money for exams in Linux clubs.

Teachers are encouraged to join the discussion forum where they can talk about a wide range of topics in organizing clubs, preparing for LPI exams, and technical issues.

About Andrew Oram:

Andy is a writer and editor in the computer field. His editorial projects at O'Reilly Media ranged from a legal guide covering intellectual property to a graphic novel about teenage hackers. Andy also writes often on health IT, on policy issues related to the Internet, and on trends affecting technical innovation and its effects on society. Print publications where his work has appeared include The Economist, Communications of the ACM, Copyright World, the Journal of Information Technology & Politics, Vanguardia Dossier, and Internet Law and Business. Conferences where he has presented talks include O'Reilly's Open Source Convention, FISL (Brazil), FOSDEM (Brussels), DebConf, and LibrePlanet. Andy participates in the Association for Computing Machinery's policy organization, USTPC.

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