Free Software

Software Engineering with FOSS and Linux

Free Software in Education

The notion of Free Software is definitely political. I’m not stating the obvious, that any human work that affects a community in any way is political. Neither I suggest that the ideological (as opposed to purely technical) reasons of many Free Software supporters (and its critics) automatically brand it as a political issue. They alone might as well characterize it as philosophical, artistic or simply iconic. Free Software is political because it is strongly tied with a deep political question: that of education, and access to it.

Every modern society claims to strive for the welfare of its members. All political parties implicitly project this as their primary goal; one’s idea of ‘welfare’, ‘member’ and the means to accomplish this goal differs, but a handful of ideas is common in the rhetoric of all bands of the political spectrum. Predominate among them is that primary and secondary education (at the very least) should be freely available to all.

The thought of education as a few hours in the classroom with a teacher lecturing to a group of students is awfully obsolete. Education is a continuous, blended, all-encompassing process. Access to and manipulation of information is a crucial part of the learning process. It is the obligation of every modern society to guarantee and safeguard the access of its members to information; this is a direct result of its obligation to guarantee access to education. A large portion of the information we draw upon to learn from is nowadays digital; in the future the vast majority may very well be so. Software is the means of accessing and manipulating that information, an increasingly large portion of which is generated outside the classroom walls or even the entire state-sanctioned education system. Imposing barriers to its use not only misses the point of education, it strangles it.

One might grudgingly argue that this issue can be addressed by adhering to open standards and open formats; surely that would be enough to ensure universal access to information without having to go all the way to Free Software, right? Wrong! Obviously open standards and open formats are a necessary prerequisite, but they are not enough. Alone, they are analogous to claiming that filling a library with books written in your native language, so that everybody can read them, and then charging a hefty entrance fee, promotes access of children to knowledge. So free of charge tools to access and manipulate information is also necessary. But why Free, as in freedom of thought? Why Free Software and not just free of charge open source? Or even free of charge proprietary software?

You can read two great articles that support this: Richard Stallman’s Why schools should exclusively use free software and Jean Peyratout’s Why give precedence to Free Software at Schools. To summarize them, Free Softwares helps students assimilate and generate knowledge, instead of simply acquire technical skills; it offers education, instead of training. It helps build communities, and promotes (actually depends on) discussion, cooperation, initiative and active participation to the development process. In an increasingly expanding digital world, it embodies the ideals of education.

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May 22, 2009 - Posted by | Free Software | , ,

25 Comments »

  1. [...] Continued here:  Free Software in Education « Free Software [...]

    Pingback by Free Software in Education « Free Software « SVHD’s Blog | May 24, 2009 | Reply

  2. You might also want to checkout:

    http://teachingopensource.org

    Comment by Tim Cook | May 24, 2009 | Reply

  3. I’m thinking along the lines of knowledge transfer. Humans have a latent capacity to read each other’s thoughts. This capacity is most is most obvious in twins. It is a matter of developing it. What if thought transfer would be used for educational purposes? What if (some) additional knowledge would be acuired through DNA genes? Sone actions are already defined at birth for baby’s survival, like breathing, feeding, thermal regulation, etc. Like a computer’s BIOS code that manages all its peripherals. Knowledge transfer as it is now needs to be faster and more efficient. Free software for bioengineering?

    Comment by rich | May 24, 2009 | Reply

  4. Free and Open Source software is essential to modern education. As mentioned above, and in the references, while closed-source, “secret” software enables people to perform specific tasks, it is a dead-end. It is like an auto which can be fueled, serviced and upgraded only by the dealer from whom it was purchased. Worse, every auto is different, requiring unique training material in order to operate, and armies of lawyers sue others for making autos which bear the slightest resemblance to theirs.

    Competition and improvement in the closed source software world requires reinventing every byte of code, EXCEPT for embedded code created under very liberal open source licenses. Free and open source software (preferably BOTH free and open source) has enabled two quantum leaps which effectively CREATED the modern computing world.

    First, when CP/M operating system was released to a hobbyist world, while it was not free, there was no surcharge for the development tools needed to create applications, and even other operating systems. This very likely led to the creation of DOS, and the microcomputer era.

    Later, the “parallel” development of a free and open source version of AT&T’s Unix research operating system led to BSD Unix, the Internet, and Linux, which like the microchip itself, is showing up in an increasing number of devices.

    Were it not for “free” (even marginally free) tools and open source, computing most likely would have evolved along a linear rather than exponential curve. Students would be paying $1500 for software to do their homework and research, and many still do, less the “drug pusher” academic discounts designed to encourage “lock-in”

    In the “real world”, people collaborate on projects, share information, and succeed by “outside the box” thinking. In the “real world” there is no SINGLE CORRECT ANSWER, nor even a set of correct answers. Instead, one needs to ask the right questions, ones which no one has ever asked.

    The quickest and surest way to learn programming skills is by reading and emulating the code of programs which work well, and which are written by skilled programmers.

    Students “learn what they live” in the sense that schools FORBID and PUNISH what works best outside of schools. What makes a student successful in school mirrors what makes a teacher or school administrator successful in the Confucian civil-service world in which they toil. While that world more or less aptly describes the “industrial age,” the only remnants of that age may be found in schools, government and financial institutions.

    While those institutions have enormous leverage on our lives, especially young lives, like dinosaurs they are failing to adapt to an onslaught of change and relentless innovation. While it is easy to be discouraged by the glacial pace of change in education and the demeaning view of colleges as “trade schools” for knowledge workers, those of us who snuk “banned” technology such as microcomputers, literally through the back door of ultra-conservative companies, or who brought open source software into schools, or who realized that learning how to learn” is more important than memorizing some facts, are optimistic for the future of open source in education.

    In your career, what you learned in school is dwarfed by what you need to learn every day. If all you learned was how to be proficient with Word and PowerPoint, those skills would be as useful to you in the future as my (former) mastery of the slide rule is useful to me today.

    Financial capital is controlled by at most 10% of the people, and in the last century, perhaps 10% of the world’s population shared in industrial or technological progress. That is rapidly changing. While the 90% concentration of financial capital is unlikely to change the increasing social capital of participation and shared development has no doubt achieved unstoppable momentum, and much as the printed book transformed learning from an economy of scarcity to an economy of abundance, open source software will lead the way in transforming the toxic culture of “secret workings” —- if for no other reason than the fact that something shared increases in value every time it is shared, copied or given away. It is a “super replicator” for good.

    Comment by Chuck Darwin | May 25, 2009 | Reply

  5. [...] Free Software in Education The notion of Free Software is definitely political. I’m not stating the obvious, that any human work that affects a community in any way is political. Neither I suggest that the ideological (as opposed to purely technical) reasons of many Free Software supporters (and its critics) automatically brand it as a political issue. They alone might as well characterize it as philosophical, artistic or simply iconic. Free Software is political because it is strongly tied with a deep political question: that of education, and access to it. [...]

    Pingback by Links 25/05/2009: Preinstalled GNU/Linux, KDE 4.3 Previews | Boycott Novell | May 25, 2009 | Reply

  6. It’s tough to write a standard that is flexible and doesn’t have any issues. We just saw from Microsoft how even when you think you have a good standard (ODF), a company that benefits tremendously when their monopoly supported products don’t interoperate with others will have a tendency to end up with products that don’t interoperate with others (even with simple interoperability issues that all other competing products from much smaller companies managed to get right).

    If you want to have access tomorrow to material you created yesterday, use FOSS applications to create them. Binary closed-source products are too untrustworthy. They hide too many things from the good people that use the products. Are the good customers of closed source products the enemy?

    Closed source companies, especially monopolists, should allow their customers to buy the source code to the products. How much does source code from them go for nowadays? $0? $20? $2,000,000? $2,000,000,000,000? Has, eg, Microsoft quoted a figure for the source code of Vista? I know Red Hat provides their source code for $0.

    Comment by Jose_X | May 26, 2009 | Reply

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    Pingback by » Free Software in Education « Free Software » Free Software | May 27, 2009 | Reply

  8. Yep, i agree you cant beat fre software… you just need to find it

    Free Office Download
    Open Office… The FREE Office Suite
    The Open Office suite that looks similar to the well known Microsoft Office Suite.
    Open Office is compatible with Microsoft Office documents (e.g. Word, Excel, Access)
    Try It, Use Open Office For FREE!

    Comment by Dave Simpson | September 9, 2009 | Reply

  9. Everything is going to be depend on the softwares.is’nt it?

    Comment by Morson | October 12, 2009 | Reply

  10. This is a great site for IT students, please visit http://www.itprojectsforyou.com

    Comment by Priyendu | October 20, 2009 | Reply

  11. You can see the article, What is the best way to get Knowledge Transfer? at http://tinyurl.com/knowledgetransfer
    The article relates to the KT for software testing professionals but the ideas may be used by others too. Let us know what you think.

    Comment by Inder P Singh | February 19, 2010 | Reply

  12. This is a really great website. The layout and design is very easy to navigate and the info is superb. Keep up the good work!!!!

    Comment by Zack | July 17, 2010 | Reply

  13. thanks you

    Comment by Heman Patel | March 28, 2011 | Reply

  14. This is a great site for it stuednts: http://www.allacademicprojects.com/

    Comment by Ankit Malasi | October 19, 2011 | Reply

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