Eisen, H. (2009) Green Teach: Canadian virtualization technology delivers computer access to millions of students in Brazil Backbone June/July

Backbone is a bi-monthly magazine delivered with Toronto’s Globe and Mail newspaper, but also available online. The magazine focuses on new IT developments.

This issue, focused on ‘green’ IT, has an interesting article about a partnership between a Calgary-based software company, Userful, with a Brazilian IT company, ThinNetworks, to supply 356,800 virtualised desktops to schools in all of Brazil’s 5,560 municipalities, through a contract with the Brazilian Federal Ministry of Education. Brazil has opted to implement a program that will put desktops (as opposed to laptops) in every classroom across the country. 18,750 computers have already been installed in Brazil’s rural villages.

If you are wondering how virtualization works, this provides a good example. Using standard PCs supplied by local Brazilian manufacturers, one PC supplies 10 workstations consisting of monitors, keyboards and mice, giving students access to multimedia streaming (videos, graphics, music), the Internet, e-mail and educational programming.

The computers use an open source (Linux) operating system (Educacional 2.0) developed by the Brazilian Ministry of Education, which incidentally standardised on open source software solutions for all its schools several years ago. The Ministry has also built a suite of high-class educational software for schools, including learning objects and open educational resources, through contracts with private developers such as webAula.

Tim Griffin, the CEO of Userful, who developed the virtualization software, claims that the cost per additional desktop is less than $50 (not including the base PC) – a 60 per cent savings in upfront costs. Perhaps more importantly virtualization saves a great deal of energy – the project in Brazil will ‘save’ more than 170,000 tons of CO2 emissions compared with using the equivalent number of full-functioning computers.

This is an interesting example of a successful partnership between government , business and schools, and shows the benefits a thoughtful Federal government ministry can bring to IT developments in schools, a lesson for Canada, which has no federal ministry responsible for education, and which lacks any discernible national strategy for e-learning (see a forthcoming blog about this issue).



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