Linux in education: a genuine alternative

Forth valley

We asked Tony Dyer, a lecturer at the college's Department of Applied Science and Computing, how Linux had made its way into the curriculum.

"We have always had a version of Unix to allow students to enhance their skill set." he told us. "In the last 15 years we have used Linux, starting with Red Hat to SUSE to Ubuntu and Fedora. We continue to believe that our students benefit from being exposed to environments other than Microsoft, as the workplace tends to have a heterogeneous rather than a homogeneous setup. The opportunity to offer our students a vendor neutral, internationally recognised qualification on top of their HNC/HND and other vendor qualification was too good to ignore."

Tony also believes that the current trend for cost-cutting could result in increased demand for Linux skills:

"In the current climate of austerity, we also believe that Open Source in general could prove attractive to businesses, and we can contribute by having trained and certified people available to meet business needs and the requirements they have to retrain staff."

Like Barnfield, Forth Valley has taken the decision to integrate the widely adopted LPI certification system into its training and qualification, and also cover a wide range of Linux skills and abilities. Dyer gave us an overview of what's on offer,

"Within our existing full-time computing courses, we are covering a large percentage of the LPIC-1 syllabus. And for students who complete their year successfully, we offer the chance to do a one-week intensive add-on course to cover the additional material to meet LPIC-1 requirements. We also offer the option to take the exams at our on-site test centre. In addition, there is an ongoing project at the Scottish Qualifications Authority (SQA) to map the LPIC-1 onto a Professional Development Award (PDA) that would be standalone and part of the HNC/HND framework. We are also currently running an 18-week evening programme to deliver the material for LPI-101 and LPI-102 exams that together gives the student LPIC-1 certification."

Tony also had some strong ideas on whether there were any advantages that Linux might have over its competitors.

"We don't feel that it's a contest between Linux and Microsoft or others," Dyer told us. "The broader and more detailed the knowledge and skills our students have, the better placed they are to gain a good job."

It also appears that Linux training of the sort offered by Forth Valley will easily slot into existing established qualifications, such as an HND. This could be a definite advantage if your child is interested in pursuing a career in Linux, but can't find a course locally, or is worried that the eventual qualification might not be recognised by universities or employers.As Dyer told us:

"The existing HNC/HND framework covers about 80 per cent of the content of LPIC-1. It is hoped in the emerging new framework that all of LPIC-1 will be covered and will have its own PDA."

We then asked whether a student's Linux experience was more likely to be used for further study, or within the workplace.

"Industry is using Linux extensively as a server platform, and Google and others are putting Linux into mobile devices and smartphones." he said. "This gives further opportunities for our students to access employment. Students can use their development skills to program Linuxbased devices and their administration skills to configure and run Linux servers."

This means that Linux students are leaving college with a cutting-edge education that hasn't made any compromises. Or as Dyer puts it:

"Our students will have more opportunities to gain meaningful employment through having a broader skill set and a more comprehensive understanding of computing. We are committed to enhancing all our students's employability."

"So far, the students have been really enthusiastic and excited about what the training can offer them."

If you can't find a college or school close to you that takes Linux seriously, it might be time to get in touch with the people who make the decisions. If other colleges are making a success of their Linux courses, and integrating them into wider IT qualifications, then there's no reason why the same can't be done elsewhere.

You only have to prove there's enough demand, and without getting in touch and letting them know, many institutions won't be aware that there is.

Get proactive

Many of the colleges that we've spoken to are more than happy to help people who want the same level of coverage for their local college, and it's likely you'll find a great deal of support in local user groups and parent associations.

Many schools, for example, are happy to use the experience and services of professional parents to help improve the provision of technology and training to pupils.

And even if parents can't get directly involved with the education, there's still a great deal they can do to source, install and run PC hardware, and hopefully, Linux.