Kids on Computers Grows Up


Most of the top contributors to open source projects had early access to computers as kids. But many kids live in communities where access to computers is not guaranteed. The Kids on Computers project is a non-profit using donated computers and Linux to provide access to disadvantaged kids.

Kids on ComputersIn January 2009, Stormy Peters wrote a post on the Kids on Computers site announcing the new project:

“We are setting up a computer lab for a school in Mexico and we are looking for computers as well as money for shipping. We’ve selected the ’18 de Marzo’ elementary school in the town of Huajuapan de Leon, Oaxaca, Mexico. The school we’ve selected is on the outskirts of the town and is located in a poor neighborhood.”

Peters says the idea for the project started when her friend, Ragavan Srinivasan (currently the Principal Product Manager – Apps, at the Mozilla Corporation), tried to convince that they should ship used computers to India for children to use. “I told him he was crazy,” she says. “He kept talking.”

Later she mentioned the idea at a talk at SCALE, and Dan Anderson, a high school computer science teacher in Los Angeles, told her that he wanted to help. The next year at SCALE, Anderson asked Peters what had happened with the project idea.

Peters’ parents had just moved to Huajuapan de Leon, Mexico. “My dad found a school where kids had no access to technology,” she says. “A bunch of us got together and formed a nonprofit, collected computers and donations from friends, and headed on down!” The school didn’t have a phone line, and the students didn’t have access to computers there or in their homes.

After returning from a June 2009 trip to deliver computers to the school, Srinivasan wrote, “‘How do you feel?’ This was one of the most common questions a lot of my friends and family asked me upon my return from Huajuapan after setting up our computer lab. I told them I felt happy, satisfied, tired, excited and relieved. But above all, I was overcome with a really strong sense of gratitude.”

Partimus, a non-profit founded by Cathy Malmorse (CEO of ZaReason, a Linux computer supplier) and Maile Urbancic (founder of Boutique Academia, a science and technology-inspired jewelry shop) partnered with Kids on Computers to build, install, test, and ship 30 desktops to 18 de Marzo in 2010. “Approximately 27 Partimus volunteers contributed 150 hours of their time to build, install, test, and prepare the computers for shipment,” the Partimus site says.

New Labs

“Our existing labs are still going strong,” Peters says. “Our first school even raised money from the parents to pay for the salary of a computer teacher full time. All the families pay a few dollars a month.”

In 2011, Kids on Computers set up four new labs and updated an older lab. In May, the group built two new labs at schools in Savcitlan and St. Marcos.

Back in September 2010, the group rolled out a lab for children with disabilities in Tlaxiaco. “This school is a Centro de Atención Múltiple (CAM),” the Kids on Computers blog explains. “In México these centers try to help children with disabilities by providing better stimulation and special attention to their learning development, and when it’s possible, integrating the children into the regular school system. The children have many different learning disabilities from Down’s syndrome to cognitive disabilities to motor disabilities.” And at the end of 2010, the group worked on a lab for a girls’ boarding school in Santo Domingo, Oaxaca.

“We also got a grant from Yahoo! Employee Foundation (YEF) that we will use to set up a lab in India in 2012,” Peters says. “In 2012 we are planning labs in India and Zambia, as well as continuing to support the communities that have begun in Mexico.”

Peters says that in areas in which Kids on Computers set up labs, parents, teachers and community members have come together to build facilities, raise money to pay for computer teachers, set up labs on their own, and set up nonprofits to recycle computer parts. “It’s been amazing to be a part of that,” she says. “During one of our trips, after getting thanked for the zillionth time, I told them we weren’t giving them computers, we were inviting them to join an online world, and that their kids would be working with our kids online, all teaching each other and learning together.”

Peters says she would like to see kids learn that they can make things, like art, web pages, and web apps, and that they can learn math and writing and languages, and use technology to connect to the world. “I’d also like to see our educational system adopt some of the really successful attributes of technology and games,” she says.

Other Cool Kid Projects

In addition to her work with Kids on Computers, Peters is the Head of Developer Engagement at Mozilla. I asked her what other open source projects for kids inspire her. Peters says Mozilla does a lot to help foster web education for kids, and one of her favorite projects is Hackasaurus. “The x-ray goggles let you check out how a web page is built and change it and make new pages of your own,” she says. I tried out the x-ray goggles, and Peters is right — this is one cool project. Simply drag the Web X-Ray Goggles button to the browser’s bookmarks toolbar and you can start seeing the page markup.

Another project to watch for 2012 is actually an event. SCALE will be having a kid’s mini-conf this year, a first of its kind. If you want to help plan this open source event aimed at the next generation, sign up for the mailing list.

To donate to Kids on Computers, visit the Kids on Computers Web site.

Of course, Kids on Computers is just one of many Linux and open source related projects that are geared at children. Which other Linux and open source projects for children inspire you?