Debian Jr. joins with OSEF to focus on outreach

November 4th, 2003

On October 23, 2003, I was invited to attend an Open Source Education Foundation (OSEF) public meeting, and walked out as a board member of their newly expanded board. This is, I believe, an important step that will strengthen both Debian Jr. and OSEF.

OSEF and Debian Jr. are not strangers. For some time, I have worked closely with OSEF. We have met often, both online, and twice in person with CEO Harry McGregor. Over the course of our relationship, we have discovered that both groups share many important and complementary goals. For example, both groups aim to improve the quality of Debian Jr. packages, and we share a common goal to introduce children to Free software.

Some outstanding work has been done by OSEF in schools local to the founding members of the organization. Their Corbett Elementary school computer lab project in Tucson, Arizona, USA is a widely known success story for Free software in schools. While I have always shied away from leading Debian Jr. to tackle problems specific to using Free software in schools, this background gives OSEF broad practical experience with a large number of children, using applications included in Debian Jr.

For two years, Justin Zeigler of OSEF has handed out Knoppix for Kids CDs to dozens of Trick-or-treaters visiting his house on Halloween. This CD is a 'live' distribution based on Debian GNU/Linux which is tailored for children, including Debian Jr. and Tux4Kids packages. Until this point, the focus of Debian Jr. had been to only to increase the quality and quantity of free software applications available for kids. I now realize this was shortsighted, as the applications we have are indeed ready for broad distribution. With this in mind, now is the time for renewed outreach in our own communities: from simple CD handouts to free library sponsored teaching sessions, followed up with online support for new users afterwards.

In the coming months, I am committing to put more energy into Debian Jr., coupled with taking an active role reaching out into communities. OSEF will be instrumental in accomplishing this. It is my hope that this alliance will renew the vitality of this long-neglected, yet important subproject of Debian.

Ben Armstrong, Debian Jr. project lead