Tuesday, July 06, 2010

Open Source in schools — not an idle fantasy

One of the policies in the Pirate Party UK's general election manifesto this year was:

We will encourage the adoption of open source software in schools, so that children won't be reliant in the future on buying a particular software package from a particular company.

Here in the UK, I still get odd looks when I say I use Linux almost exclusively on my computers. A widely-held perception seems to be that Linux is an esoteric operating system that isn't capable of doing a lot of widely-needed tasks. Certainly many of my friends would never consider running it on their own computers (despite the fact they're almost certain to have at least box running Linux in their house — but I digress).

Open Source in schools is a particularly controversial concept. 'But how will school leavers be able to function in the Real World if they haven't been taught to use the "industry standard" software?' the detractors cry, referring of course to Microsoft Office.

The fact is, though, that Linux has been widely deployed in schools all around the world. The biggest deployment is in Brazil, where the Ministry of Education has installed Linux in labs used by 52 million schoolchildren nationwide — yes, that's fifty-two million — and it's been a great success. Not only does the 'Linux Educacional' distribution, installed in tens of thousands of school computer labs, fulfil the day-to-day needs of school ICT and computer science teaching, but has lead to a growing market for OEM Linux computers in Brazil. And no, their school leavers seem to have no difficulty whatsoever in adapting their IT skills for use in the 'real world' (whatever that is), as Brazil continues to have the strongest IT industry in South America.

Aaron Seigo mentioned this and other (huge!) educational Linux deployments in his keynote speech at this year's Akademy, the KDE developer conference. It seems to me that Linux — not to mention other great Open Source software such as OpenOffice.org, Firefox, Blender, Audacity and Inkscape — have already proven their suitability for use in schools.

Maybe it's time for British schools to step out of the muddy rut of using Microsoft everywhere 'because everybody uses Microsoft', and follow the lead of so many other countries in trying something new, exciting, and in the long run quite possibly both better and cheaper.


Doc said...

You see the problem is very simple. My old head of IT from school explained it to me many years ago.

He tried to install openoffice or even a commercial flavour because it would have saved the school A LOT of money.
The board of education (which has been bought and paid for and is run by a bunch of religious uneducated nutless monkeys) said no. The reason being that they wanted to "prepare students for using software they will in the future" (which is ironic seeing that they had only just moved away from using the Acorn system they were running since the times genesis was written).
Since apparently schools don't actually teach you concepts of say...a word processor, that was an argument. The REAL reason was that Microsoft paid a ludicrous sum of money (aka a bribe) to ensure that only their software is used in schools. This ensures that students grow up being accustomed to windows from an early age and hence will cause them to carry on using this software for the rest of their life (since schools make sheep and sheep are not designed to think outside of the box and explore alternative possibilities).

This is why Microsoft is still around. They make shitty cheap products using slave labour, but they work tightly directly with businesses, corporations and educational institutions. They provide partnerships, free support, training etc.... So it's pretty clear why people prefer to use their software rather than "free" software.

Plus. Not to be flamebait or anything, but openoffice seriously does NOT compare to office. Writer - i'll give you that one. It's a decent word processor that's a perfectly acceptable alternative. Calc is shit. End of. It's horrible. You'd need some very strong drugs to try and say calc somehow can take on Excel. Seriously. No. That pretty much stops openoffice dead in it's tracks being adopted by the business sector. And since people like consistency they will always opt for the full software package rather than using individual components of each for their needs (and why? office comes with at least word and excel bundled for the same price).

As for other free software? Blender? Great software, but no one really knows about it. When you think 3D you think 3dsm or cad or maya. Why? Because people always want to use the "professional" software that the "professionals" use. The "professionals" use the expensive software because we still have this concept that the more a software package costs the better it somehow is supposed to be. Same with a lot of software. My old school refused to upgrade ie6 (at the time) to ffox because they didnt think is was as "secure". It's the same old FUD - nothing ever changes. If you want opensource adoption in say the education sector then the people that write the software need to actually go to the education based conferences where shitty companies like RM are dominating everything and actually sell (not literally) the software to the education boards, to the schools etc.... These people are all stupid - they are not computer literate. They have problems using Word. They know next to nothing about computers and they rely on people coming to them and saying "you pay us and we'll provide you with all of this".

Doc said...
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