Schools using open-source

Today I started looking around for more research on schools using or migrating to open-source solutions and I'm finding quite an overwhelming amount of case studies (it's great! but difficult to review and digest) at all sorts of level (country-wide policies, city-wide, single school, county , district, area, state...)

Trying to keep to the data that relates to the UK and Ireland will not only be useful but simply make the search more manageable. It's still great to know all this is out there and I hope I'll find a way to benefit from it without having my head explode along the way. I think for the stories of failures I'll keep the net wider as well, I saw very few and there's a lot to learn from them (I found one).

Along the way I came across this fantastic letter from Peruvian Congressman David Villanueva Nuñez, written in answer to a letter from Microsoft Peru who was offended by a Bill enforcing the use of free (libre) open-source software in government bodies, back in 2002. The letter is available here. I wish I could be so eloquent, this is beautifully written and well-worth a read, the argument is rock solid.

Back to the topic of open-source in schools, here's what comes out of today's reading with regard to problems encountered.

Barriers to adoption

  • (Re-)training teachers who already know Microsoft products
  • Windows-only education software that's already in use
  • "Students will have to use Microsoft software at some point during their life anyway"
  • Guarantees, support

The counter-points: Teachers already have to retrain and update their course material with every upgrade of Microsoft products (that is usually accompanied by a license cost, if not a hardware upgrade when the OS needs to be upgraded as well).

Students should be taught to use software in general, not a particular branded product. Moving from OpenOffice to Microsoft Word and vice-versa shouldn't be difficult. Because it's in Microsoft's interest to release new versions regularly, the interface will change anyway so being versatile is important.

With regard to guarantees, I'll turn to the awesome Peruvian letter cited above, for a description of how the guarantees of open-source software and proprietary products are the same, if you pay attention to the EULA of the latter. Provided "AS IS." Support is necessary in both cases as well, open-source software usually lets you pick from a wider range of suppliers.

For #2 I haven't seen any specific software mentioned yet so it's hard to explore the problem more deeply. I need more information.

Failures

In the Peruvian letter, Microsoft highlights that similar initiatives have failed before, citing Mexico Red Escolar project. Dr Villanueva Nuñez answers that the main issue with their approach was that they only focused on the monetary savings and failed to account for implementation and maintenance cost. It's very interesting in the context of the letter because Microsoft themselves say that licence cost only accounts for 8% of the cost of purchasing software.

I really want to learn more about that Red Escolar project. I think the name has been reused for an education portal since then and it makes it difficult to find information about that particular initiative. So far in English I've only been able to find reports on the announcement circa 1998, 1999 but no follow-up. I probably will have to brush up on my Spanish and go look around the source websites :)


I'm going to try to keep the information ordered neatly in a file or page, in addition to this blog. This will force me to stay organised and keep my sources straight. Today's findings started from a BBC article found through LWN, but I'm sure I missed a few references along my clicking and reading of the day. Writing this up properly as I go along will be very interesting (and right in line with my goal of writing more!)


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