The Wayback Machine reveals that 20May2004 was the first time it crawled http://planet-india.randomink.org/ It has been nine years of making friends, crowd-surfing, reading about stuff folks are up to, life hacks and so much more. There’s not much to say other than “keep writing!” I know of a number of folks who like what they read and help out by pointing out new feeds which need to be aggregated.
Around 4 days back, I had an interesting conversation over micro-blogs with a friend. When he was at Pune, we spent a small part of the evening talking about education, educators and, the process of educating as observed here and elsewhere. It did boil down to a (somewhat idle) lament that “the system isn’t performing according to expectations”. I thought over this over the weekend and, while I am not an educator, I am a “person interested in education”, and, it makes sense to attempt to try and see what the expectations are.
Any functional education system has to provide the participants with the tools and constructs that allow them to have independent streams of thought. While it teaches the formal discipline and rigor needed to pursue new topics, its scope should ideally encourage original thought. More importantly, it should encourage creativity, be intolerant of casual approach and, be ruthless in demanding excellence.
The problem is that reality isn’t always like that. There are a significantly high number of education institutes, some of them of past repute, who are sliding down the slippery slope of mediocrity. This fall is aided by the fact that the “education system” doesn’t lend itself well towards measuring the quantum of knowledge passed on to the students by the educators. And, it is compounded by the sad truth that the prolific growth of institutes have encouraged a somewhat exponential fall in the quality of the staff. The final nail in the coffin is the datum that the system of measuring “education” is around the results of an examination. The fact that the examination pattern does not encourage “thinking” is somewhat of a greater problem.
It is true that the better educators have not involved themselves within the system as much as hoped for. It is also true that the students have been lax in bringing themselves up to speed. The refusal to be aware of whom to benchmark themselves leads to a sort of navel gazing that is self-destructive at best and, a society-exploder at worst. With the current trend of public-funded schools not getting the number of teaching posts at the expense of wider inflow of private education (both at primary and, higher education levels), it does mean that the situation is possibly going to take a larger turn for the worse – a significantly higher section of the school-ready population is going to be unable to get decently functional education.
I don’t have any solution. That rankles. I do observe with rising alarm the somewhat inevitable slide. That needs to change.
The post is brought to you by lekhonee v0.7
This time around, the variety of proposals which have been selected for The Fedora Project & JBoss.org combination are awesomely nice. Congratulations to all those who did make it and, for those who could not – I’d say that this is a learning opportunity and, we would look forward to your continued participation and contributions to the project. There is plenty we can learn from each other and, these are the times to make use of the opportunities
Turns out that India has the second highest number of accepted proposals. I recall reading earlier that the number of proposals/applications from India was significantly high as well. However, I’d say that this is just a beginning and 101 isn’t really a number to be going to town about. Sure it is better than where we were 3 years ago. But, the world has also progressed since then and, we just cannot keep on benchmarking without adjusting for that change. There are certain trends which are nice though. Things like second time applicants, applicants turned mentors. These indicate the willingness to participate, to contribute, to collaborate and to coach – all important ingredients in the great rush to become a better FOSS citizen.
It is a privilege to be a mentor because it gives one a chance to read the proposals before hand, help in scrubbing and polishing them and, to take a dipstick test into the trends of FOSS adoption and awareness in the country. And, the T-Shirt is a nice incentive 😉 Among the few things that do come to mind include the need by all the projects to lay frameworks that can coach the young participants more effectively – work towards bringing them up to speed throughout the year and, show them how to think. The last point was hammered home in a number of proposals that seemed to have a distinct lack of originality. While we rejoice and blog triumphantly about the increase in India’s contribution, we need to keep in mind that this is just a start of the contribution process and, the virtuous cycle ends when the contributors of today become confident enough to take the role of mentors of tomorrow.
I am sure that the following have been written again and again, but I’d say it is never enough. For those who want to participate in GSoC and work towards a good application, it would be nice to keep in mind some of the following.
- Participate early, participate continuously – a project can become confident of the student’s ability to deliver if there exist proof that the student has what it takes to take the idea from a concept stage to a deliverable. So, do not land up on a project during GSoC, give it some deep thought and engage in a structured fashion much earlier so that the developers know who you are and what you can do.
- Think, don’t just read – if there is constant participation, anticipating a potential GSoC project becomes much easier. Thinking about it in the perspective of relevance and value to the project gives it the much needed shine. This also means that it is easy to write a proposal around an idea than just verbatim copy of the text of the idea into the proposal
- Talk, don’t just write – it is important to indulge in public discussion of the ideas, the proposed paths and initiate discussion. GSoC proposals are not fire-n-forget type documents. They need constant attention
- Listen, don’t just talk – a good proposal is one that discusses it with potential mentors and, can evolve through discussions and suggestions. Keeping eyes and ears open to good ideas also demonstrate a willingness on part of the candidate to become a better contributor and a good participant
In all the years that I have been interacting with the various upstream FOSS projects, reasoning and convincing various groups to have a ‘local’ view of issues that complements the global strategy has been an uphill task. Sometimes it is just that interpersonal relations have been able to overcome the curve. At other times, it has just been a constant pegging away with facts, data points and a regular representation of issues that validate the need to approach and integrate local issues within the fold of the greater goals of the project. Either way, it makes me happy to see another project realize the need to align the views and inputs of the local participants and, figure out ways and means to respect their inputs and listen to their feedback.
The Regional Groups aspect of OpenOffice.org has gone a bit unnoticed and somewhat unloved (and, it has been my fault since I do not recall talking too much on this). This would be one area where it would be good to have a few folks stand up and take ownership as a steward.
In other news of the day, I have an @gnome.org alias for myself (thanks SysAdmins). Sadly, it has the usual pain of making a botched job of my actual name and, by now, I am so used to folks chopping up my first name every way they feel that I am more amused and less bewildered at the lack of appreciation of names.
Taking up from where I left it last time around, one aspect that should work out is producing a distribution that is packaged with applications relevant to education. The catch phrase over here is “relevant to education”. And, it means thinking about something what the Fedora Electronic Labs does.
The Fedora Education SIG seems to have a slightly different approach and, a different objective. Especially the part:
The Fedora Education Spin is the number one goal right now and includes software to use it as a terminal server client. In parallel some SIG members work in integrating K12LTSP into Fedora. Once that work is finished it remains to be seen if we integrate that work into the Fedora Education Spin.
It would be good to try and see if a Fedora based release can be done which gets installed out-of-the-box and, somewhat along the lines of this blog entry, wrap meta-data around the applications so that it becomes relevant to the target consumer. There are a couple of hops to go before LTSP and such can be packaged into a complete ‘solution’ that comes preloaded with relevant content. Getting the bits out there for playing would also allow a lot of volunteer driven innovation to land up and enhance the process.
I guess I am talking more about the modular breakdown of competencies that allow a larger group of people to start contributing in whatever way they can. Having such a bit would help in FiE and OCiE as well. Ideally, this could be something that is possible to be explored by any upstream project irrespective of whether it is a distribution. So, let’s say a GNOME-Edu compose set that let’s one package a lot of educational applications using GNOME bits to make it available as a functional-out-of-the-box installation.
There are 3 trends I notice when we talk about Education and FOSS in the same sentence. Especially when it comes to conferences and workshops in India. These are:
- FOSS in Education (FiE) – in all probability this can be the one aspect that is quickly done. There exists a curricula and content, and, the aim in this workflow is to ensure that the needs of the curricula are met via FOSS tools and technologies. A pretty much on-topic example could be consumption of Fedora Electronics Lab (FEL) towards teaching the content. Or, using parts of the GNU ToolChain when teaching programming and development.
- FOSS for Education (FfE) – reworking the focus and direction of the curricula and courses towards giving it either a neutral shape (thus allowing easier FiE) or, going full-throttle and making change happen. Since curricula creation has a lot of traditional (and, sometimes unusual) stakeholders, FfE is a game of constant flux, push-n-pull. For obvious reasons, it is also the place where a large amount of community involvement is required. Changes need catalysts. Community participation and direction provide that bit of spark which starts getting_things_done.
- Open Content in Education (OCiE) – have heard a lot of discussions around this but, am yet to see any University or College take this up seriously. Making the entire course content (syllabus, reading, references – the works) open and available for re-distribution or, re-use is something that Universities need to consider seriously. The era of classical education being driven through ‘red-brick’, ‘government funded’ institutions is close to being over. There are multiple ways to reach out to the potential learners as opposed to just waiting for the students to come in and enroll themselves. Re-thinking about content and breaking out from the mould of ‘elitism’ is something most educational institutions are not accustomed to doing. And, it requires careful handholding. Both in terms of the ‘coming out’ as well as the legal aspects of putting out the content. I would be interested in knowing about institutions in India that have managed to put this as part of a practice.