Inculcating ICT Usage in Educational, Social and Economic Activities - Extremadura, Spain
The Regional Government of Extremadura is committed to transforming the region into an information society promising digital connectivity and literacy to every citizen. To carry out this ambitious objective, it has embarked on a series of programmes in Extremadura to introduce information and communications technology to the people, as well as to inculcate ICT usage in educational, social and economic activities. FOSS is chosen as the vehicle and enabler for all this to take place.
The Regional Government of Extremadura is committed to transforming the region into an information society promising digital connectivity and literacy to every citizen. To carry out this ambitious objective, it has embarked on a series of programmes in Extremadura to introduce information and communications technology (ICT) to the people, as well as to inculcate ICT usage in educational, social and economic activities. These programmes include the Education Technology Network programme that aims to provide one computer for every two pupils in the schools, the Digital Literacy Plan programme, which is an initiative to train the adult population in ICT, and the Vivernet programme that is promoting ICT to small- and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) and the business sector. In addition, it has also placed computers and increased their use in the regional ministries.
Free and Open Source Software (FOSS) is chosen as the vehicle and enabler for all this to take place for economic, social, political and technical reasons. As the Extremadura government expects to place into schools, government offices and public places very many computers, it would be prohibitively expensive if it has to pay software licensing fees. In addition, in order to make the computer useful, friendly and familiar to the local people, it has to be able to customize the operating environment to the needs of the various targeted communities and to reflect local culture and language. The freedom to adopt, adapt and modify the software to suit its needs is paramount to the government's initiative. The Regional Government has created its own GNU/Linux distribution called gnuLinEx (or Linex), to serve as the main ICT platform and operating environment. This is a localized Spanish-language Debian-based GNU/Linux distribution. There are specific versions of gnuLinEx adapted to specific needs and environment, e.g. gnuLinEx Edu for education, Linex Empresa for business and JuegaLinEx for games.
The project has resulted in large numbers of computers being installed in schools and public sector organizations with an equally large number of users being exposed to ICT and gnuLinEx in particular. Apart from its sheer size, the Education Technology Network programme is unique in that for the first time a government body has initiated the development and deployment of software adapted to the needs of education and identified beforehand the needs of the education community. This is done with a clear objective to provide technological literacy within the framework of a technological network. The Regional Government has also shown its political will and commitment to utilize FOSS both within the education system as well as in public administration, and in providing ICT facilities to the people.
The Extremadura project is still in progress with the various programmes in various stages of implementation. In the meantime, new areas where FOSS can be used are continually being explored and collaboration with new partners and sharing the acquired knowledge with them are being done.
Background of Organization
Extremadura is an autonomous community of Spain. It is situated in the south-west of the country, bordering Portugal to the west and located in the centre of the triangle formed by Madrid, Seville and Lisbon. The size of the region is some 8.3 percent of the whole of Spain and 2.6 percent of the Spanish population can be found here. The economy of Extremadura has progressed steadily over the last few years and making use of the European Union Communitary Cohesion Funds, the Regional Government of Extremadura has initiated several education, social and business projects involving ICT technologies. The Government of Extremadura is a firm proponent of FOSS and it hopes to bring the people of the region into the information age using FOSS.
Objectives of Project
In 1998, the Government of Extremadura announced that it is committed to transforming Extremadura into an information society and promised connectivity and digital literacy to every citizen. It launched the Global Project for the Development of the Information Society that was aimed at promoting the usage of ICT among the citizens, which would result in an improvement of the quality of life. In order to realize the objectives of this project the government needed to use software over which it had complete control and FOSS was chosen.
The government supported the creation of a version of the GNU/Linux operating system, called gnuLinEx (for Linux Extremadura) that was not only adapted to the local language (other Spanish Linux versions already existed) but to the local culture. With such extensive localization it is hoped that the local people without any previous computer experience can get to learn and use gnuLinEx quickly.
There are two primary objectives in creating gnuLinEx:
- To contribute towards the development of the Education Technology Network with a target of providing one computer for every two students in all the schools in the region.
- To disseminate FOSS in Extremadura through various other programmes and the Administration itself.
In summary, the main objective of the Extremadura project is to utilize FOSS and, in particular, gnuLinEx, as an enabling vehicle to bring the people of the region into the information age.
The primary target group of the project is the population of Extremadura.
Several public and private organizations and NGOs are working together on ICT programmes and initiatives in order to realize the ambitions of the Extremadura information society project. Some of these are:
- The Regional Government of Extremadura, through the Regional Ministry of Education and the support of the Regional Minister of Infrastructures and Technological Development, is responsible for the Education Technology Network programme.
- The Foundation for the Development of Science and Technology in Extremadura, has a central role in the economic, structural and innovation strategy development of Extremadura. It has several programmes running under it.
- The Centre of New Initiatives is involved in the support of the Education Technology Network as well as the development of the Linex (gnuLinEx) Centre.
- Vivernet (Business Centres for New Technologies) is involved in promoting FOSS and gnuLinEx to SMEs in Extremadura.
- The Digital Literacy Plan in Extremadura is an initiative of the Regional Government of Extremadura and the Regional Association of Popular Universities. Together with town councils and other entities, this programme is promoting New Knowledge Centres for the training of the adult population in ICT.
gnuLinEx is based on the Debian distribution of GNU/Linux. When it was first created, gnuLinEx was based on Debian distribution 2.2. The latest gnuLinEx that has been released, gnuLinEx2006, is based on Debian 3.1. The basic gnuLinEx includes the GNOME desktop environment, OpenOffice.org office application suite, Mozilla and X-Chat Internet applications as well as multimedia players like XMMS, Xine etc.
The distribution packaged for educational use, gnuLinEx Edu, makes use of the basic gnuLinEx and adds on to it several specific FOSS education applications. This education distribution makes use of the Squeak platform for developing and running education software. Squeak is multi-platform, supports multimedia well and is easy to develop and display contents under it.
For business use, Vivernet adapted the primary distribution, gnuLinEx Edu, to the needs of SMEs, entrepreneurs and businesses of the region, to create Linex-Empresa (Linex for business). This distribution is widely used in the business sector of Extremadura and it contains FOSS business software catered to SMEs and big corporations.
Choice of FOSS
One of the main reasons FOSS was chosen was because of the long-term cost savings it can provide. The Education Technology Network programme alone involves providing a minimum of 70,000 desktops in the initial stage and so any software licensing costs incurred will be prohibitive.
The ability to freely adopt, adapt and modify the various packages in the GNU/Linux distribution to suit a particular environment is also very important. The chosen software platform has to be fully customizable and scalable, and adaptable to local culture and language. The technical merits of GNU/Linux in being able to provide a secure and network-ready development and application platform are also important considerations. With the use of FOSS, the local software industry will benefit too, as it will be needed to support and enhance gnuLinEx and support the users.
Debian GNU/Linux was chosen as the distribution to base gnuLinEx on as it is a community-driven distribution; the Regional Government of Extremadura being a public body wanted to be independent of any commercial vendor.
Development and Implementation
The basic gnuLinEx is targeted at equipping an end user with little computer knowledge with office software and communications tools (email and web browsers). It is simple to install and configure and this Spanish language version of GNU/Linux has been modified so that the user can be familiar culturally when using it. Consequently, icons and names of programmes refer to the regional culture. There are specific versions of gnuLinEx adapted to specific needs and environment, e.g. gnuLinEx Edu for education, Linex Empresa for business and JuegaLinEx for games.
FOSS applications, including gnuLinEx, have been adopted on a large scale by the entire public sector. Over 70,000 desktops in public administration use it, as well as over 80,000 desktops in schools. An average implementation in a secondary school will involve an average of 500 computers for the students, plus at least another 100 computers for the staff and the teachers; in addition there will be at least one central server and many other hardware peripherals such as printers, digital cameras and scanners.
The deployment in schools targeted one computer for every two pupils, and these computers are all connected together to the Education Technology Network resulting in a network of more than 80,000 computers, all running gnuLinEx. During the year 2002-2003, gnuLinEx was installed and used by 16 new secondary schools. This was expanded in 2003-2004 to all the schools in the region. A server capable of managing more than 500 computers as well as supporting remote management is installed in every state secondary school.
The size of this project has made it possible for the region to sign an agreement of collaboration with the European Organization for Nuclear Research (CERN). The scientists there intend to use the huge computing capacity available from the 80,000 computers of the Education Technology Network that lie idle at night for scientific computing work.
Apart from the schools, the different regional ministries, such as the Regional Ministry of Culture, the Regional Ministry of Education and the Regional Ministry on Infrastructure and Technological Development are also using FOSS, with more than 70,000 computers installed with gnuLinEx and FOSS applications. Other public institutions and/or organizations that have FOSS solutions deployed include the Health and Care System of Extremadura (the JARA project), the public libraries of Extremadura and the ITVs (technical inspection of vehicles).
The Extremadura project centres around the creation of a localized, customized distribution of GNU/Linux and the deployment of this as the main component in the Regional Government's ICT programmes and initiatives. The Regional Government makes extensive use of FOSS in its efforts to introduce computer literacy to its citizens and transform the region into an information society. The Education Technology Network programme shows how a government body can initiate the development and deployment of software adapted to the needs of the local end users and identify beforehand the needs of the educational community with a clear objective: to provide technological literacy within the framework of a technological network. This top-down strategy identified a tool, gnuLinEx, to implement the educational objective of providing one PC for two students in all the schools.
The project has resulted in large numbers of computers being installed in schools and public sector organizations with an equally large number of users being exposed to ICT and gnuLinEx in particular. The introduction of PCs in the schools resulted in more than 80,000 computers being installed with gnuLinEx with 183,000 pupils and 16,000 teachers using the software. The Digital Literacy Plan of Extremadura, a strategic and pioneering initiative to promote ICT to the society, has reached more than 820,000 users in Extremadura. Over 70,000 desktops in public administration use gnuLinEx. In addition, the setting up of a public Internet access point and a public library in every village will make it possible for every person in Extremadura to participate in the information society through FOSS and gnuLinEx.
The success of this project has attracted the interest of many other regions and organizations in Spain, as well as other countries in Latin America. The Extremadura experience has been shared with other European regions, aiming to promote the use of FOSS in public administrations. This experience is also being shared with some Asian countries.
The main lesson learned from this project is that FOSS can be a key enabler to bridge the digital divide and promote digital literacy to all the people, irrespective of their geographical, economic or cultural situation. This will enable all citizens to have access to and participate in the information society.
To encourage this, a government needs to formulate policies that address the following:
- freedom of choice of software for the user as well as for the government
- greater competition in the market place
- ensuring the technological independence of the government
- easier access by citizens, business and the government to technology and avoiding economic barriers
- promotion and development of the local software industry so that it is capable of competing in areas traditionally dominated by foreign businesses
- equipping local professionals with skills to compete in fields of software traditionally dominated by foreigners
- the preservation of information through the adoption of open standards
- the usage and respect of local culture, practices and regional languages
From the Extremadura experience, it is found that to develop an ICT model based on FOSS that is sustainable, universal, and fair, some of the key policy issues that should be considered are:
- accessibility for all
- technological literacy for all
- support to be given to entrepreneurs and businesses
- initiation of the technological processes in educational sector
- continuous evaluation and adaptation of processes
Current Status of Project
The Extremadura project is still in progress. It is exploring new areas to adopt FOSS solutions in the regional administration and collaborating with new partners and sharing the acquired knowledge with them. It is important at this point to create links and contacts among the partners in order to foster innovation by sharing. This is one of the reasons for the founding of the Iberoamerican Network for Free Knowledge.
On the software development side, gnuLinEx is continually being maintained and developed. gnuLinEx2006 was released on June 2006 and it has proven to be very popular. The usage of the business distribution, LinexEmpresa, among the SMEs of Extremadura continues to increase and it is now also gaining popularity with business users in Spain and Latin America. A new gnuLinEx distribution, targeted at NGOs and civil society, is being developed and will be made available in the near future.
The status of some of the programmes are as follows:
- the Education Technology Network is progressively being implemented
- new systems for the Health and Care Network of Extremadura (JARA project ) are in the final stages
- the migration of the ITV (technical inspection of vehicles) systems is being finalized
- new possibilities for e-government are being evaluated
Benefits and Challenges
The political advantages in using FOSS are many and these have been addressed in the Lessons Learned section. The main benefits of deploying FOSS are that it provides an economical and affordable means to implement the ICT programmes of Extremadura and that it allows for the creation of a localized operating environment. In addition, the general benefits of quality, security, reliability and good support by the FOSS community are also important.
The benefits of using FOSS in terms of direct savings and cost cutting in the mid/long term are unquestionable. For example, based on a distribution of a minimum of 40,000 copies of gnuLinEx software in schools, it has been calculated that this will have a total savings of EUR30 million if compared to using a proprietary software solution.
The biggest challenge to this project is that the Regional Government is the first administration in Europe to adopt the use of FOSS. As a pioneer in this area, it has to blaze its own trail and does not have the experience of other governments to fall back or to learn from.
Other disadvantages experienced include the cost of training and the reluctance of some users and organizations to use FOSS as they fear interoperability problems with proprietary software in use. However, on the whole, the advantages far outweigh the disadvantages/inconveniences.
There is a lot of global attention given to this project in spite of the fact that it started out as a regional project adopted to face the challenges of Extremadura. However, the situation in Extremadura has lot of similarities with other regions in Spain, Europe, the USA and the rest of the world. The project is recognized worldwide as a FOSS success story and has received numerous awards.
Awards and Recognition Received by Extremadura
Several of the projects and/or people associated with Extremadura have received awards and recognition internationally. Below are some examples:
The "Innovative Actions in Europe's Regions and Cities" prize in the category "Information Society" was awarded by the European Commission to the gnuLinEx and the Information Society project in Extremadura in 2004.
The "Miguel Hernández" Award in 2004 was given to the Digital Literacy Plan of Extremadura by the Ministry for Education and Science of Spain, as recognition of the efforts to promote education accessibility to elderly people using ICT technologies.
The "Ramon Lull National Prize on Informatics" was awarded in 2005 to the Extremadura project for its efforts in the use and promotion of Free Software.
The Regional Government of Extremadura has demonstrated how FOSS can be utilized as the main vehicle to bring about ICT literacy and awareness to the people. The economic, social, political and technical benefits of FOSS are borne out clearly by the Extremadura experience, in particular, the customized and localized gnuLinEx and its deployment in over 80,000 computers for the education network. In spite of the initial reluctance and problems of some of the users and organizations and the fact that the government is a pioneer by being the first administration in Europe to adopt the use of FOSS, the project has progressed well. The success of the project has resulted in large numbers of people in Extremadura being exposed to ICT and FOSS and the region is well on its way on its path towards the information society.
Organization: General Directorate on the Information Society, Regional Minister of Infrastructures and Technological Development
Contact Person: Jorge Villar Guijarro
Street / Postal Address: Edificio Almuzzafar, calle Montesinos S/N 06002 Badajoz, Spain
Phone: +34 924 014 976
Fax: +34 924 014 961
The Extremadura website
The gnuLinEx project site
The LinexEmpresa project site