4 Linux-forward schools

4 Linux-forward schools

To meet future demand for IT skills, we need to bring open source into the PK-12 classroom today. These schools are leading the way.

4 Linux-forward schools
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It's well known that there's a shortage of qualified candidates to fill IT jobs. Employers are urgently looking for people to fill DevOps, development, sysadmin, and other IT roles—especially employees with experience in the cloud, web technologies, and Linux—to manage the infrastructure powering their businesses.

According to the Linux Foundation, more than 1 million courses in Linux and open source software have been taken by aspiring IT pros through its partnership with EdX. But to meet the IT workforce's demands for skilled employees now and in the future, we need to start preparing people a lot earlier in life—in pre-K through 12th grade (PK-12) schools.

Many of today's students use laptops, Chromebooks, and tablets in school, but few have access to their underlying operating systems or software tools. Even though the popular Chromebooks are Linux-based computers, students usually aren't allowed to interact with the operating system. Usually, they are reduced to consumers of educational applications to produce content such as videos, presentations, essays, research papers, and more.

A new paradigm in education

We need to remake our educational priorities for school-age children and create a new paradigm in order to develop the knowledge workers that our future economy is built on. I took some steps in this direction when I was actively involved in PK-12 education. I taught a course in digital citizenship and gave my students opportunities to learn about Linux and other open source software, doing things such as distributing Linux live CDs and teaching them how to virtualize operating systems.

I'm thankful that many educators are advancing this idea, actively working to make the new paradigm—where computer skills are considered core knowledge—a reality. They are teaching students more than just how to use applications, expanding the curriculum with opportunities to learn and explore Linux and the open source software that powers most of today's cloud-centric computing.

Bringing Linux into the curriculum

Aaron Prisk is enabling students at West Branch Area School District in Pennsylvania to learn to use Linux. Through Aaron's foresight and leadership, each student was given a Linux laptop with full root access and encouraged to experiment with the software. West Branch's approach was to create an open campus where students received a toolbox, not merely a tool. That might seem like an invitation to chaos for network administrators, but it has been a successful model for students in the district.

Stu Keroff at the Community School of Excellence in St. Paul, Minn., started the school's Asian Penguins middle school computer club. The club provides an avenue for students in the charter school, comprised predominantly of students of southeast Asian heritage, to learn about Linux, refurbish computers, and bridge the digital divide.

Charlie Reisinger, author of The Open Schoolhouse, provides a fantastic model for a paradigm shift in PK-12 education. Charlie is the IT director at Penn Manor School in Pennsylvania, which implemented a 1:1 laptop program that provided students root access on Linux-equipped student laptops. In addition to this extremely successful initiative, the school offers a student technology apprenticeship course, where students gain first-hand experience supporting Linux and other open source software programs.

Students in Andrew Dobbie's middle school technology stewardship program at Centennial Senior Public School in Brampton, Ontario, are meeting the need for classroom computers by reimaging them with Linux. Not only are they giving old computers new life and keeping them out of landfills, they are engaging in an immersion-learning experience with open source technology.

In addition to these educational leaders, many schools have introduced the Raspberry Pi platform into the curriculum, offering even more opportunities for students to explore the Raspbian Linux operating system that powers most of these devices, as well as become involved in the growing maker movement.

Validating learning

These open source advocates and educators are doing great things to teach PK-12 students the skills they'll need in the workforce, but there are a limited number of certification opportunities for students to validate their learning. Certification is strongly recommended, if not required, for employment in many IT jobs, so I believe that this is an area that's ripe for opportunity.

Here are two options for students who want to validate their knowledge.

  • There's no charge to take EdX's free online Linux course, sponsored by the Linux Foundation, which also has a $99 certification option. The course is taught by Jerry Cooperstein from the Linux Foundation, and the verified certificate provides proof of knowledge and skills gained.
  • Cisco Networking Academy provides courses in NDG Linux Essentials. The courses can be found in colleges, high schools, and vocational training centers, and can lead to Linux Professional Institute certifications and the CompTIA Linux+ certificate.

What is your school system doing to prepare students to address this critical need for IT professionals in the workforce?

About the author

Don Watkins - Educator, education technology specialist,  entrepreneur, open source advocate. M.A. in Educational Psychology, MSED in Educational Leadership, Linux system administrator, CCNA, virtualization using Virtual Box. Follow me at @Don_Watkins .