Go Back to School With Linux: Part Three

by Ostatic Staff - Jul. 31, 2009

Today marks the final installment in our series that takes a look at educational versions of popular Linux distributions ideal for students returning to class in the next few weeks. We've already talked about Edubuntu and openSUSE Education, so today let's take a look at Debian Jr.

While many distros provide educational software for students all the way up to college-age, Debian Jr.'s age-specfic apps top out around the 12-year old mark. According to the project's Web site, "Our goal is to make Debian an OS that children of all ages will want to use. Our initial focus will be on producing something for children up to age 8. Once we have accomplished this, our next target age range is 7 to 12. By the time children reach their teens, they should be comfortable with using Debian without any special modifications."

Indeed, in addition to the Debian Jr. apps designed to teach children about programming, there are also a handful that help them learn about and use their computer system. For example, Midnight Commander is a shell that allows students to explore and manage their accounts.

Each distro we've looked at this week emphasizes a different school subject and in the case of Debian Jr., it's writing. The software comes bundled with Abiword and Abiword-gnome, a dictionary, a spellchecker, and Pico-like also a text-editor, Nano.

Debian Jr. also focuses heavily on mathematics in the hope that children will "gain an appreciation of math from an early age." Of course it includes several educational math and logic games you'd expect to see, it also features a few apps like the real-time fractal zoomer Xaos, designed to encourage higher learning.

Each educational software bundle we've looked at this week has its own strengths: Edubuntu is very approachable and perfect for users of all ages that are new to open source applications. openSUSE Education is a terrific option for educational institutions that want to set up multiple computers in labs and classrooms. Debian Jr. does a great job of preparing its young users for a long-term commitment to the wonderful world of open source software. Whether students use one of these three options or an altogether different FOSS bundle of educational apps, the important thing is to encourage students to try new alternatives to the commercial software they may be using right now.