TeX4Schools — Entry 01
The vision of teaching (La)TeX at schools.
Creating reports, documentations and stories are just a few examples of the many things that students have to write. Nowadays the process of creating such a document almost always involves using a computer for typesetting. I don’t want to lie, word processors do a nice job. They are fast and simple; but mostly the user only knows the very basics of how to use a word processor. The resulting documents are often not really beautiful and — what most people don’t even see — typographically incorrect. I’m not saying that I’m getting everything right all the time, but I think that it’s very important to not only write a document, but also to shape it and create a reader-friendly design. Thus, I personally like to emphasize the use of the typesetting program TeX and its powerful extension LaTeX.
This is the first, of hopefully many, project diary entries. TeX4Schools is a still small project that aims to bring LaTeX into upper or lower secondary schools as a typesetting program —and by that I mean only for typesetting, not for programming. For the beginning the project should bring LaTeX into the schools in Austria, my homecountry, but it is thinkable that the project could expand to other countries too.
Before starting this whole thing I did some research on the topic as there might have been a similiar approach anywhere else. It turned out that there hadn’t been any recent project that is comparable to the idea I have in mind, so I started right from zero.
First of all I took a look at the various local TeX groups everywhere around the world. Although Austrias universities use LaTeX a lot, there is no Austrian user group. Since I could not find a real reason for that, I asked for one on TeX.SX. Apart from the argument that Austria has no need for a user group, because there is one in Germany (DANTE) for all German-speaking people, Barbara Beeton mentioned that there had already been an approach to bring TeX into schools in Austria in 1990: A former student named Konrad Neuwirth wrote an article for the TUGboat in which he lists some different approaches on how to get schools to use TeX. He clearly states that in his opinion TeX — as a programming language — does not fit into the Austrian school system. Since that time a lot has changed. Technical schools have started to teach programming languages like C or Java more precisely, because in the modern world nearly nothing works without software. Young teachers bring up even more techniques that are used on universities or in various sciences. This fact is by the way the only reason why I got to know LaTeX.
So coding isn’t the real problem anymore. That’s one of the reasons why we started to spread LaTeX within our school; and the response to that was amazing. Now about 150–200 people are using the program at our school at the moment. Workshops in two other schools are planned, but not yet realised. Furthermore, my teachers spend a lot of time trying to convince teachers of other schools to learn LaTeX and spread it among their students.
When I read all these lines it seems like a great success — and it really is — but there is still a long way to go. The project TeX4Schools is young and at the very beginning. I’ll try to keep pushing the limits, but a lot of convincing and talking has to be done to finally achieve the desired goal. Further, it would be a great idea to establish the not-existing Austrian TeX Users Group, but not in the near future.