Australian FOSS Advocates Miss-a-Trick (IMHO)

I found this on my Google News reader this morning.

Australia’s open source community leaders have written an open letter to Deputy Prime Minister Julia Gillard calling for consideration of free and open source software in the implementation of the Digital Education Revolution for the National Secondary School Computer Fund.

The letter, signed by 10 local open source professionals, calls for greater use of free and open source software in schools, particularly with the election promise of $1000 to fund a computer for every secondary student in the country.

You can read the letter in full at the same URL:, bet here’s the key paragraph:

We urge you to consider the cost-saving implications of advocating the use of free and open source software in schools to further the aims of the digital education revolution and maximise the impact of this critical investment in the future.

Although I applaud and condone the sentiment behind the letter, I can’t help but feel that concentrating on one single aspect of FOSS (the cost) was rather missing a trick here. As we approach the BETT show next week and my head is firmly in FOSS-in-Education mode right now I think there are other really great features of FOSS that are in my opinion at least as, if not even more, important than cash:

  • The Freedom to Study the software. As Alan Bell so eloquently put it the other day, this freedom to study should be mandated by all Governments where educational software is concerned. When you attend other types of creative classes (woodworking, car mechanics, chemistry for example) the whole point is to learn how things work and how to use tools to make new stuff. With ICT (as it is called here in the UK) based on proprietary software, you cannot even ask how it works, or how it could be improved. Talk about how to kill curiosity.
  • The second point that greatly concerns me, is that by relying on proprietary software in the publicly funded education sector, when your children come home with digital school work (in proprietary binary formats), the educator is essentially expecting every parent to buy and use the same software as is used in schools. At the very least, schools should be also mandated to use Open Standard Formats for digital documents so that parents are free to choose what software suits them rather than be dictated too.

So, whilst I do wholeheartedly support the goals of the request in the letter to the Australian minister, I really think they have missed an opportunity to highlight other significant benefits of FOSS to the wider community as well as just the teachers.

On a technical level, there are other significant benefits too: Virus and Malware Freedom, increased reliability, extending life of existing hardware, flexibility to change (want to use/test/investigate Suse, Fedora, Ubuntu Server? Simple).

Of course I may be lacking some information as to why the letter is so brief and succinct. Perhaps it is about as long a letter as the minister is capable of reading or something, but I’d love to hear more on this from those in-the-know so to speak.

Whilst I’m thinking about it, perhaps we could all collaborate and come up with a list of compelling and virtually inarguable reasons for why our educators should be using FOSS wherever possible.

Come on then. Give us your best shot!

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  • JoseKont says:

    Muy interesante, el software libre y la Educación, ambas forman una excelente combinación. Saludos

    PD: I don’t speak english well, hence i wrote in spanish (my first languaje)

  • The Open Sourcerer: Australian FOSS Advocates Miss-a-Trick (IMHO)…

    Alan, without actually trying to dive too deep into this, my main question is:
    Who should actually be targeted by these “open source in education” initiatives?
    Politicians live in a world with many motivations, both natural and aritificial….

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