Free Technology for the Classroom

The government have invested nothing in ICT in the majority of primary schools since about 1997.  Yes, we were wired up to very slow Internet connections a few years ago but the vast majority of schools have funded their own hardware and software purchases without any proper independent guidance.  The only guidance available are from government-backed agencies such as the NCTE or by individual companies, who are not renowned for their independence.

By the end of 2009, between 30% and 60% of schools owned at least one Interactive Whiteboard.  30% of these were Promethean boards which cost these schools at least €3,995.  This money has been raised by parents and many schools did anything they could to get one at the expense of much more valuable equipment pedagogically.

Now, we all know we shouldn’t believe everything we read, so the title of this post is somewhat untruthful.  You’ll probably need to buy a couple of other things.

In my opinion, you can have a basic set up for free.  Here’s how:

  1. Visit your local college or business and ask them to donate any unwanted PCs to your school.   Parents are also another source of free computers.  So far, my school have got 25 working PCs for free.
  2. If the PCs are really old, wipe them.  Now get a free Linux CD (preferably Edubuntu) and pop it into your computer and you have a nice (and fast) working computer.
  3. Plug your computers up into your network (which the government gave you for free) and log onto the Internet.
  4. Download the following programs: Open Office (a free alternative to MS Office), Audacity (a free recording studio), The Gimp (An image editing package), Scratch (a free visual programming language), Logo (another free language), ActivInspire Personal Edition, EasyTeach Viewer and Notebook viewer (IWB viewers).  Search for “open source software” for almost anything you need.
  5. Start up a blog using WordPress, Scoilnet or anything similar
  6. Find an old camera phone and you have a digital camera.
  7. You’re done.

Now, add €2 for a microphone in a Euro shop and you’ve got everything you need to start publishing a podcasting station.

So, for €2 you probably have enough equipment to keep you going forever.

For the record, if you want to buy equipment, make sure you spend no more than:

  • €200 on a laptop or Desktop PC (refurbished computers)
  • €500 on a projector
  • €2,500 on a complete IWB solution (see my many reviews and videos)
  • €25 on a webcam
  • €50 on a digital camera
  • €100 on a digital camcorder

ADDENDUM WITH THANKS TO: Rob… A guide to post-instalation of Edubuntu in school with links!

Last Update: August 9, 2017  

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14 thoughts on “Free Technology for the Classroom”

  1. I think some of the ideas in this post are great but I just wanted to highlight a few points.

    1 & 2. 25 working PC’s have a limited life span, no warranty, require PAT testing, may have sensitive data on, may need licenses.. Reinstalling takes time and skills that many teachers don’t have.

    3. Plugging computers without antivirus onto your network is a recipe for disaster. Also by doing this your pupils/teachers will expect the same environment everywhere in school but this will not be possible without some complicated configuration changes.

    4. Downloading open source stuff is great, I support this motion 100%. Also using free online services or setting your home page to – Don’t go too crazy on new software though because someone will need to train your pupils/staff on how to use it!

    5. Primary Blogger is a version of wordpress that includes some extra protection and features for schools.

    6. Sourcing the software for your camera phone may be a bit tricky, google should have the answer if you search for the make and model of your phone and include “software” in your search.

    And the for the record bits..

    500 Euros on a project will probably not include a bulb warranty, Sony do 3 year bulb warranties on their projectors (education only) which means if your bulb blows you get unlimited swap outs saving 300 Euros or so a time.

    Great article, hope I have contributed some food for thought! 🙂

    • Many thanks for the kind words Rozz and glad you like the laptop bags! Just to point out that in fact you can get an Interactive SMARTboard package for as little as 400 phones.

      Keep collecting everyone! 🙂

      Kind regards,

  2. Also, Viking do good deals all the time, we have got loads of free things from them ranging from jellybeans, thorntons chocolate, laminating machines, CD players and most recently a digital video camera! You had to spend a certain amount, 100-450 depending…but we saved up our purchases like boxes of stamps and paper! Also give you lots of really cool ict stuff in exchange for old mobile phones, we recycled 100 mobiles and got 4 really good laptop bags…800 mobiles gets you a smart board package with installation.Check them out, really quick service too.

  3. @John: Installing Edubuntu means malware just isn’t an issue. I’ve been running Kubuntu (a very similar package) for 2 years with no slow down. There just isn’t enough malware for Linux out there at the moment to worry about.

  4. This article (and a few other conversations) prompted me to have a good look at Edubuntu – bang went any break at Christmas.
    At the end of my comments, I’ve added a bit of info. on myself / business to hopefully help you understand my views.

    I’ve put a VMWare Player onto my XP laptop and am running Edubuntu through there.(This odd install took a bit of working, so my comments below are not related to this task).
    Edubuntu does require a higher level of technical expertise than XP in my view. But, my view of XP is built on years of Windows related stuff.
    Simple changes that can make a drastic difference are very awkward to discover.(eg – make sure that you point at your nearest update server).
    What was a 5 minute sprint in Windows – download/install Java – was a serious task in Edubuntu.
    The free software with edubuntu seems to lack the imagination and flair which commercial solutions provide in the Windows environment.
    I’d be a little concerned that this lack of imagination / flair will be seen by pupils as a backward step. (Big pressure to leave 98 for XP and Office 2003 for 2007 was the argument – ‘we have better stuff at home’). that said, the downloadable software like Scratch is superb.

    I agree with John’s comments regarding Antivirus – I see Fergal’s point, but you only need one bit of bad stuff.

    That lot makes me look somewhat hostile to Free Stuff. That’s not the case at all. With some of my technical lads, we’ll be working with some of our schools to get a bit more out of ‘retiring PCs’ that just can’t hack it with Windows anymore. The approach we’re likely to take is something like this ..
    Kubuntu (nicer inteface), plus a very small amount of carefully selected free downloaded software plus some great free online stuff (John pointed me at sumo paint today) PLUS some on-line subscription materials (like j2e etc)PLUS link to VLE and Internet
    The main challenege I think we face with this is to set the end user expectations at the right level – that we’ll be keeping something going (and helping school retain / improve pupil:PC ratio).

    The filter paragraph – you may wish to filter the above through the below…
    I run an ICT solutions company – we’re a Microsoft Authorisd Education Reseller, Certified Partner and Small Business Specialist, Sophos Gold reseller and j2e Authorised Reseller. I’ve passed a raft of the Microsoft exams (but not enough for MCSE!) We were authorised by DfES as a Curriculum OnLine Reseller when that project was running. Technically, personally, I was a trained UnixV Systems Administrator, IBM MVS CMS/VM and AS trained support specilaist, configured and run PCs since CP/M and MS-DOS and was one of the earliest trained Ethernet technicians in the UK.

  5. We’re using Edubuntu in our school. There is a steepish learning curve but the fact that this is free software in my opinion makes this worthwhile.
    I’d just like to make a point about Anti-Virus software, this is available free and can be easily added to an Edubuntu install. While Linux (Edubuntu) itself is not under as great a threat as Windows from viruses it is nevertheless important to install this, even if it’s main function is not to let Windows viruses pass through in order to cause harm elsewhere.
    Regarding Java installation and something as simple as playing a DVD (quite an ordeal first time), the best thing to do if there are a number of machines to set up is to get one of them set up properly including Java, Real player, VLC, DVD, MP3 playing, anti-virus, etc., then use a nifty program called Remastersys (yes, it’s free) to make a copy of this install, burn it to DVD and hey presto, you have an installation DVD tha will set up all the later machines in the same way as your guinea pig system. Remastersys vastly reduces the time taken to install the remaining machines.

    One thing I’d love for Edubuntu is a decent equivalent to Microsoft’s photostory, there are a few other headaches that come along from time to time but they’re only headaches because I haven’t figured out how to get round them yet, the Ubuntu forums have great support and someone will have seen most problems before.


    By the way, I have written a Howto in order to get around some of the post-install work (Real, DVD, Java, etc.), this was for my own benefit as I forgot how to do it myself once and it took me ages to get it all done again so it seemed better to document. It’s not the most sophisticated and well presented document you’ll ever see but it might help if anyone wants to try installing Edubuntu so I’ll see if I can put it somewhere on this site.

    • Hi,

      I’ve been re-installing a Ubuntu PC from scratch and realised that the post-installation document I sent is broken where it gets to installing RealPlayer. For some reason the long command doesn’t paste into the terminal properly. The easiest way around this is to follow the link above the command and find a properly pasteable (hmmm, new word?) version of the command under “Install ”realplayer” from the Repositories.” Alternatively, you could type it in.
      Sorry it took me so long to notice.


  6. There are many ways to make this things happen. But it all depends upon the school on what they want to do in order for their students to learn and become updated to this matter. Here in our country, we are starting to put up internet connections to the schools that is hard to be reached by the people. Those where the remote school because also to update this students inspite of their situation. They have the highest percentage when it comes to who are the schools that the learning and their curriculum is not standard.


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