| :: Articles :: Open Source in Primary Education|
|25 February 2002|
Open Source In Primary Education
by David Howe
As the Chairman of the National Parent Council-Primary (NPC-P) Wicklow Branch, I was involved in writing motions for the NPC-P Annual Delegates Conference (ADC) to be held in Galway this year. The National Parents Council is the statutory body recognised as the voice of parents in education.
Aware of the dearth of funding available for computers and software in primary schools one of the motions the Wicklow branch put forward for consideration was the use of Free or Open Source software to reduce costs. One of our county delegates declared that she worked for Microsoft and thought that the chances of succeeding with this motion were slim.
The motion, although submitted, did not in the end make it to the ADC.
Freedom Of Choice.
However this motion did bring into question my personal assumptions about the freedom of choice that an individual can exercise when they buy software or train for employment in the outside world.
Some of the areas where we as individuals cannot exercise a choice are:
The issues become even more worrying when one considers whether even governments can exercise a choice as to what operating systems and software they can use in practice.
Choosing the operating system of our choice when buying a PC at high street stores or on the web. It may be theoretically possible, but theory and actual practice are quite often, different.
Choosing an alternative to the European Computer Driving Licence (ECDL), say one more suited to free or open source software products.
However there is a choice and it is a compelling choice, if just on the grounds of having a viable second source of operating system, one that is ported to more computer processors than any other operating system in history. The alternative is GNU/Linux more commonly known as Linux.
GNU/Linux resulted from the work of Richard Stallman who wrote free software and made the source code freely available through his Gnu Public License (GPL). Linus Torvalds chose the GPL to safe guard the source code of Linux for future generation of programmers and users.
Linux has a particular appeal to governments weary of US domination in nearly all spheres of technology. Linux is particularly attractive to the third world and to developing nations such as India and China. It is also attractive to more independently minded nations in the first world, such as France.
Mandrake* works His Magic.
However in this forum I am talking to the converted, but how does the Irish Government and the EU view the open source movement.
Surprisingly open source is central to the strategies of many EU working groups on technology. The French government are perhaps at the vanguard of the adoption of open source software.
The following excerpts are from the Irish Government's response to the “eEurope Action Plan” http://www.entemp.ie/ecd/02eur001.doc .
A relevant excerpt is given below:
Actor: European Commission & Member States:
Promote the use of open source software in the public sector and e-government best practice through exchange of experience across the Union (through the IST and IDA programmes.)
Irish Government Response
The Irish Government participates in both the TESTA 11 and CIRCA initiatives, intends to deploy XML information formats and exchanges in eGovernment applications through its Public Services Broker, and is aware of the French initiatives in using open source software.
Irish Government Ambivalence.
As you can see the Irish Government's response is non committal, however given the political and moral pressure from the EU and the pressure to conform to standards set from the centre this ambivalence probably won't persist.
However as you read through the minutes the Irish Government is still reliant on the ECDL for basic computer literacy/education. So at a European level the general outlook is good, however , closer to home…..
As for primary schools there is some good news in that the student/computer ratio is set to fall. However it is likely that the operating system on these machines will not be open source. However since open source is free and contains many useful applications open source software may make an impact at this level.
The adoption of open source at primary school level depends to a certain extent on how the educators are themselves educated. If it is through the ECDL then it is likely that students as young as five will be exposed to the dominant operating system today i.e. a Microsoft product.
Hope For The Future
The approach of the EU as regards the “eEurope Action Plan” is a top down approach. In effect the commission is forcing a widespread adoption of open source software.
I would encourage interested parties to visit the above URL as there are many more topics of interest to a technical audience.
*Mandrake is a French distributor of Linux.
Linux In Naas CBS
About the author, David Howe.