Open Source in Education

The very limited use of FOSS in the UK’s education sector has long been a source of much puzzlement and even anger – from this side of the IT divide at least.

In the last year or so we have, happily, seen a rise in the background noise level, and more recently with BECTA’s activities and the award of the approved supplier status to Sirius IT as signs that things are finally changing.

This morning, I saw a post on the OOo marketing list from Ian Lynch publicising this new place of reference and support for the education sector: Open Source Schools:

Open Source Schools is an initiative to inform schools about Open Source Software (OSS). A number of schools are already realising the benefits of OSS within their ICT strategy. This project will work to share their experiences with the wider community of educational practitioners.

The project will support a community of practice that engages those who are currently using OSS and welcomes and supports new members. Our aim is to create an educationally focused project driven by the needs of the community – giving them the means to become confident users of OSS.

A great idea Ian and I hope it gets wide publicity. It was a very timely post considering a couple of conversations I had yesterday at the Woking Business Expo where we were exhibiting…

The first discussion was with a parent and school Governor who has really started to understand FOSS and the benefits it brings from several meetings we have had with him over the last few months on a more professional basis. He dropped by yesterday to say hi and was very keen to introduce the concepts and ideals of FOSS into his school and LEA. We will help him in this as much as possible. Dave, let’s arrange that beer!

The second, and far more worrying conversation, just shows what a total travesty it is that we continue to teach our children not how to use a computer as a tool, but instead teach our kids how to open and create a Microsoft Word or Excel document. Another visitor to our stand (and parent) was discussing the experience of a colleague whose child came home from school with some homework only to find he couldn’t open the files on his home PC as they were created in Office 2007! The family couldn’t afford to buy it – and why the hell should they frankly? This was obviously very distressing for the family and child concerned.

Our our schools now a sales channel for Microsoft I wonder?

The result of this kind of upgrade-treadmill that MS would love us all to live on permanently, is to create a two-tier system of education for our children: those whose parents can afford to buy expensive commercial software and those who cant.

The UK Government, even more so now they have just spanked £500bn propping up the banking system, must start to act and reduce the outrageous and completely wasteful expenditure on proprietary software. Why oh why don’t we just do a nation-wide roll out of OpenOffice.org to EVERY computer in the public sector and especially in Education? It would be a good start, and then we can get rid of that festering boil called Windows later.

  • No more extortionate upgrade costs,
  • no more public documents created in binary, patent encumbered formats,
  • an end to the single vendor lock-in and monopoly,
  • no more two-tier children…

We can always dream I guess.

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5 Comments

  • [...] is another new post about OpenOffice.org and other Free software programs in education. The UK Government, even more [...]

  • Hugh Nicklin says:

    Dear OpenSourcerers,

    I installed Open Office but immediately found that it doesn’t support many of the sophisticated features of Excel, especially related to hyperlinks. I have not been able to switch to it for general use because so many of my administrative documents are tied together with hyperlinks.

    I have a large number of History teaching materials which I can convert to Open Office and distribute. The selling of knowledge is becoming one of the many things disfiguring our world, and I should be glad to work against it in a small way.

  • Alan Lord says:

    @Hugh, thanks for commenting.

    That’s quite interesting. I have quite a few linked spreadsheets and have not encountered any major issues. I also use hyperlinks to websites in cells with no difficulties too.

    Perhaps, it could be an error in the conversion process from xls? If it is, then you should almost certainly report it so the community behind OOo can try to improve the product or help you find a solution. I’d probably start with users@openoffice.org and see if anyone has experienced a similar problem. If not, then you can report it as a bug and get the developers to investigate.

    Just a FYI. The users@openoffice.org is a high volume list. I prefer to access them via a news reader so they don’t clog up my mailboxes. here’s a good page listing the various mailing lists and ways to subscribe/access them: http://www.openoffice.org/mail_list.html

    HTH

  • Martyn says:

    I posted a response to Phil’s comments about OS in Politics http://philipoakley.org/?p=114.

    I’ll repeat it here…
    >>>>>
    I was at the IT steering committee meeting of my local FE college. In attendance was the IT manager for the local council. When I asked him about the use of OS software he said that Microsoft was mandated by the LGA – i.e. local authorities had to use it.

    Also the senior lecturer on the app development degree said they couldn’t effectively teach Linux or the use of OS tools as part of the course because the IT support group at the college would only support Microsoft applications and servers. They therefore couldn’t get any budget approval to install any OS software or servers for teaching.

    I was gobsmacked.
    <<<<<<<<<<<<
    I stress the lecturer was talking about an Application DEVELOPMENT degree course – so they were forced to use MS tools!

    Marty

  • [...] in Russian Grammar. There is some bitter irony in Ken’s post that is the antithesis of the story I re-told recently regarding the child who’s family couldn’t afford to buy MS Office [...]

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