Recherche Tech Puts Together Best Available Open Source Technologies to Revolutionize Education in India

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My sCool Server – the company’s first commercial product is a feature-packed appliance for powering computer labs, smart classrooms and offline content e-libraries.

Children using computers booted from MSS at Malekpur (Khe) Pay Centre School, Mehsana, Gujarat – ICT Lab.

Recherche Tech LLP, a three-year-old software company based in Ahmedabad, Gujarat, is striving to become the leader in innovative, affordable and inclusive application of open source IT in the educational segment. With its first commercial product ‘My sCool Server’ – a unique all-in-one education technology device build using open source technologies– the company is aiming to provide almost every need of information and communications technology (ICT) infrastructure in a K-12 learning set-up.

Ideal for schools, colleges and trainers, the My sCool Server is a feature-packed appliance for powering computer labs, smart classrooms and offline content e-libraries. It is packaged with some of the best free educational tools available such as Sugar, GCompris, early math content of Khan Academy, several engaging opensource games & colourful storybooks from Pratham.

In an exclusive interview with EFY bureau, Jigish Gohil, Co-Founder and Chief Product Architect, Recherche Tech LLP talks about their product, the company’s sales strategy, open source ecosystem and how they built a business around it.

Excerpts:

Q. Tell us more about your company. When and how the journey began with My sCool Server?

Founded in 2016, Recherche Tech is recognised as a startup by the Department of Industrial Promotion and Policy, Ministry of Commerce & Industry, Government of India under the Startup India initiative. Soon after the company was founded, My sCool Server was validated as innovative product by National Institute of Design (NID) Ahmedabad incubation center.

The name is derived from the French word Recherché, which literally means ‘carefully sought out’. It is an adjective, meaning rare, exotic or obscure.

True to its name, Recherche Tech LLP exists with the sole purpose of unearthing the exotic and obscure technologies with the help of deep research. We innovate with them to create products and solutions for adoption of ICT in education for benefit of the masses.

Social impact is one of our core concerns, we aim to bring benefits of technology in education to maximum possible schools in a most cost-effective manner. We help schools leverage technology that allow them to continue using hardware they have already invested in, reducing their environment footprint, save on internet bandwidth by providing rich content for use by students even without access to internet.

CREATING A PLUG-N-PLAY DEVICE WHICH INCORPORATE SO MANY VARIED TECHNOLOGIES ON LINUX PLATFORM HAS BEEN OUR BIGGEST CHALLENGE AND OVERCOMING IT HAS BEEN OUR GREATEST ACHIEVEMENT.

My sCool Server is a result of over a decade of experience in building education focussed GNU/Linux distribution working closely with teachers and students using it every day. Li-f-e : Linux for Education built on openSUSE was being used by Indonesian government school system nationwide, combined with expertise in Linux Terminal Server project (LTSP), for which I had received FOSS India Award from your esteemed magazine ‘OSFY’. The need was felt for something easy to deploy which not just address lab computer set-up, but also provide quality offline content and measurable metrics. Thus, the My sCool Server was ideated, conceptualised and created to address this need. Interactive whiteboard is the latest improvement added to it based on user requirement assessment.

Q. Is My sCool Server the company’s first product or are there any other products as well?

My sCool Server is the first and only commercial product from the company. Though it was initially conceived to cater to the computer lab needs of the Gujarat State Board schools, today it has come a long way.

Li-f-e: Linux for Education distribution on which the My sCool Server is built has been available for free download since over a decade.

Q. Can you throw some light on the open source technologies you have used in building My sCool Server?

My sCool Server is built on off-the-shelf hardware – Intel NUC and open source technologies. Apart from Li-f-e: Linux for Education OS based on Ubuntu LTS, Linux Terminal Server project (LTSP) is integrated to serve “fatclients” for lab computers. Also, Epoptes teaching assistant is integrated so that teachers can screen broadcast, monitor and control each PC in the network. Moodle LMS, Kolibri and Sugarizer are integrated to provide contents from Khan Academy, PHET, the CSpathshala curriculum, etc. Spoken Tutorials by IIT Mumbai, National Repository of Open Educational Resources (NROER) initiative by CIET, NCERT are also made available offline for Indian school context.

We have also used Zabbix and Thyme for monitoring and reports. On the other hand, Openboard paired with Bluetooth Wacom tablet and projector for each classroom computer provides interactive digital whiteboard. There are many more useful open source technologies which we have integrated after years of research and development.  

Q. What were the biggest challenges that emerged initially while designing My sCool Server, and how did your team overcome them?

Our aim was clear, ‘keep things so simple that teachers and students are able to start using the system as soon as it is powered up without having to go through manuals.’ With My sCool Server, basic operations are intuitive and advanced operations can be accomplished without requiring extraordinary Linux Systems Administration know-how. We have designed a set-up of system that configures all services automatically depending on the environment the device is plugged in. Creating a plug-n-play device which incorporate so many varied technologies on Linux platform has been our biggest challenge and overcoming it has been our greatest achievement. We have also put together excellent and relevant tutorials and manuals to enable smooth operations for everyday use.

Li-f-e began as openSUSE based distribution. After openSUSE discontinued release of live medias we had to look for alternative base. Ubuntu was an obvious choice as most Indian state computer education curriculum is designed for that. The shift from openSUSE to Ubuntu base without compromising user experience was one of the big challenges.

We designed snapshot backup system that can create snapshots on the device or create bootable USB with all customisations at any point.

Modularising of offline content platform was another challenge, each content provider uses different technologies, Moodle for example uses full LAMP stack. we created a self-contained Bitnami bundle to provide everything it needed so that any breakage due to system update does not affect its services.

Getting our product to the market is another biggest challenge, we are working very hard at it.

OPEN SOURCE ECOSYSTEM IS IMMENSE WITH HUGE POTENTIAL TO INNOVATE BY BUILDING ON THE ALREADY AVAILABLE AMAZING TECHNOLOGIES 

Q. Will your company also provide maintenance/repairing services for the appliance?

Yes, My sCool Server comes with one year limited warranty and three years hardware warranty provided by hardware vendor. Extension of warranty is also available. Our engineers can remotely fix any issues when connection is initiated from the device. Telephonic support is also available when no internet is available. We of course provide training to teachers who will be operating the device and also offer excellent user manual which include troubleshooting guide for any problems that may arise.

Apart from this, we understand that accidents happen and that everyone deserves a second chance. Being open source, one may be tempted to play around with the server but we do not penalise you for doing so. The My sCool Server provides Factory Restore options via –

  1. Server boot menu or
  2. USB created with the recovery.sh tool

Factory Restore option restores the system to the state the server left Recherche Tech’s premises, which may include customisation such as user accounts, etc., if the data is given at the time of order placement.

Schools can easily create as many custom snapshots as they want after customization to the system which can be restored at any point. This frees them from dependency on us.

Q. What is your sales strategy? Which one is your preferred choice – online or offline channel?

We are setting up offline channel partners, working with many corporates on CSR projects. We are also trying to make inroads with governments such as Bhutan to roll out My sCool Server on a large scale.

Nature of our business is more suited to offline sales model, which is our preferred choice, because schools usually prefer someone to come to their premises to demonstrate, deploy and provide training to teachers. However, being a plug-n-play device that is intuitive to use, online sales model would work as well.

Q. What challenges or uncertainties do you expect to face in the future?

Even though we have addressed the challenges of bringing together multiple complex technologies which are necessary in 21st century classrooms, conveying the real value of the developed product to the end users and getting every school to adopt it even in a small region is a massive challenge. My dream is to get benefits of open source technologies and educational resources to every school possible.

Mass producing the device, distribution and customer support will be another big challenge once user base crosses critical mass.

Technology is ever evolving at a very fast pace, keeping the device relevant with new developments and flexible in terms of providing new and user requested features quickly is another area to consider.

Q. You have built your business around open source, what would you suggest to other entrepreneurs who are doing the same, or would want to do?

Open Source ecosystem is immense with huge potential to innovate by building on the already available amazing technologies. Find your niche and build something that solves real problems. Also keep in mind that life of the users of your product should not just become easier by using your product but it should be also enriched. Work is very hard, but if you make a positive impact then it is all worth it.

 

To know more about My sCool Server, refer to this linkhttps://www.myscoolserver.com/

 

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