The term Free and Open-source software has been used to refer to computer software whose source code is available for public use, either exactly the way it is or after certain alterations are made to it. Free Software licensing encourages innovation through collaboration. Without it, many of the technologies we take for granted today would never have developed or would be locked away behind patent law. The Free Software movement is the reason that technology has developed at such a breakneck pace for the past few decades.
Pehia Foundation is glad to have with us, Aiswarya, the one behind GCompris in Malayalam. GCompris is a cross-platform complete educational suite for children aged 2 to 10. It is a free and open-source software and is available in many different languages. Aiswarya completed B-Tech in College of Engineering, Trivandrum in 2015 and is now working in France.
Here are some snippets from our conversation!
1) How was GCompris started? What was the motive behind GCompris?
GCompris is an educational suite for children aged 2 to 10. It was created by Bruno Coudoin, a French software engineer in 2000 as part of the GNU project. Bruno started the software to teach different topics for his kids. As it is a Free/Libre software, it got good attention around the world among parents and teachers. In 2015, the project became part of KDE community and has been re-written completely with Qt. Now, the new version of GCompris 1.0 is available for GNU/Linux, Windows, Android, Raspberry pi and macOS.
2) Well, great with that motive, but how did you start off with GCompris in Malayalam?
I studied in a Malayalam medium school, so felt the need to contribute my part in Malayalam for GCompris after I got to know about it. I translated the application and the website in Malayalam including giving voiceover for the application. Also, I have worked on designing different levels for language activities for Malayalam.
3) I have heard that there are around 150 activities available on GCompris. Can you tell me about these activities in detail?
Yeah, there are more than 150 activities available on GCompris. This includes almost all subjects and many games like chess, recognition of letters and numbers, the use of the mouse and keyboard, basic algebra training, reading time on an analog clock, language learning through games, and much more. Apart from the translation of the software, I authored an activity to teach analog electricity (a simple analog electricity simulator). Also, I added some features for better accessibility and fixed a few bugs, and continue all these works. Since it is open to all and it is not only for kids, we have a wide range of users apart from children. Parents of these kids and many elderly people also use GCompris and try these activities especially because through these they can learn how to use computer devices like mouse and keyboard.
4) How hard was it for you to establish your market in Kerala? How did users get to know about GCompris here?
GCompris is used as a tool to learn to use computers from the beginning of IT@School in Kerala. And then IT@School started to use it for other subjects too. Now GCompris is taught from 1st std to 4th std in Kerala. Though the school textbooks show the old version of GCompris and not the new version which works on all platforms including Android.
5) Obviously, the journey might not have been easy. What were the difficulties faced in this journey?
The main difficulty was to get used to the Malayalam Inscript keyboard. The development environment set-up also needed a slight learning curve. But once it was all set-up everything became easy. Recording audio and editing also needed some efforts. However, it went well. As Malayalam has a lot of letters and then conjuncts, it was tricky to put all these into different levels of activity. It still needs some improvements. I am waiting for more user feedback before making further changes.
6) Can anyone contribute on GCompris?
Yeah, as it is Free and Open-source software, anyone can make contributions. You can use it as you wish, adapt it to your own needs, improve it and share it with everyone. Many student communities offer contributions on a temporary basis. There are many contributors to our team who contribute to different languages. So, it is quite fun getting to interact with people from different languages and know their culture.
7) So, how successful was the 20-year journey of GCompris?
The 20-year journey of GCompris was quite a success. Sometimes we get direct user reviews especially through kids of developers but we don’t know the exact number of users. We get appreciation from kids, parents and teachers from all around the world. Even kids made videos showing how to use GCompris. We don’t have a lot of direct user reviews from Kerala apart from a school in Kannur. A lot of people are still unaware of many Free software apps like GCompris and a lot more. We are glad to know that apart from kids even elderly people are using our app to try out all the activities. It is a learning platform for all and not only for kids.
Pehia Foundation wishes all the very best to GCompris and hopes that they will keep expanding and come with much greater innovations which are open to all!