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Schools looking for alternatives to Google

Schools looking for alternatives to Google
Schools looking for alternatives to Google

A pilot project of the Barcelona City Council and Xnet starts to give free software tools and data control to five schools It all started two years ago, when a group of families from Barcelona went to the entity specialized in digital rights and democratic control of data XNet, warning that their schools were asking for authorization for their children to use Google tools. That alert grew, it was transferred to the City Council and now a pilot test is starting, in which five schools or institutes will participate, which consists of digitizing the centers with an alternative internet program that guarantees privacy and control of data and is easy to use. Schools looking for alternatives.

From Xnet, Simona Levi insists on the idea that it is not just that these centers have control of their data and a free software suite (which in Google would be the Gmail, Calendar, Drive, Docs package, etc), it is so easy to use. Make it usable, not just for advanced users. “It is about creating an alternative to Google that can compete in usability, a suite that can be used by any child or teacher, that you don’t have to be a purist,” he explains graphically. Xnet also signed a contract with the Generalitat to propose an alternative program to the search engine.

On the part of the City Council, the director of Democratic Innovation, Arnau Monterde, argues that “it is not about going against Google, but about providing alternatives to the educational community with a package of tools that are at the height of usability, are auditable and provide security guarantees”. And more, he points out, at a time of context in which, due to the coronavirus pandemic, technology has gained prominence in education.

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Monterde points out that Google “is entering almost all schools because it is easy, because everyone has an account, but it enters uncritically and no one perceives the associated risks.” And he adds: “Whoever designs the digital educational experience does so from Silicon Valley without knowing the needs of the educational communities or the public. And as much as they comply with European legislation, we do not know exactly what use is made of data that generate minors when they use these tools

There are already three schools that have asked to join the project, but “they do not want media exposure” until they start, explains Levi. The idea is that they can start working with the new program in March or April of next year. The expert in rights related to data and the internet assures that each week they receive emails from two or three concerned families: if they do not sign the authorization to use Google tools, their children are excluded from the ordinary operation of the school. “It’s Google or death,” he sums up.

The City Council will invest 140,000 euros in this pilot test, which will be used to provide secure servers to store data, free software tools and technical and training services. The pilot will offer “infrastructures, pedagogical resources, support and technical services that allow a digitization of the centers with free and auditable technologies”, the council reported in a note.

In the consistory the project depends on the Democratic Innovation Directorate and the Digital Innovation Commissioner and the Education Consortium. The suite that will be deployed will integrate Nexcloud (servers), Big Blue Button (videoconferences and digital whiteboards), Moodle (learning management), Jitsi (videoconferences), Etherpard and other open and auditable software tools in the five centers.

The implementation contemplates the use of these alternative tools both at school and if you have to work remotely, which is happening this course due to the coronavirus pandemic. Furthermore, the idea is that they are replicable if more schools or institutes request it. “Robust, usable and 100% competitive for the main needs of digital education,” explains the statement, which emphasizes that it is data of minors.