how Free software supports schools

I wrote the following list of advantages schools get by procuring Free software. I did it for the school I currently teach at though I hope others may find this useful. Any suggestions for additions or changes are welcome.

Civics and Ethics in Action: From an early age, we wish to teach students to share, cooperate, and engage their curiosity. Typically, proprietary software licensing restricts users from modifying their software or making copies to share with others. By contrast, teaching students the civics of community and the ethic of sharing is harmonious with Free software licensing and core educational goals. That is, we can promote these values and concurrently encourage students to respect the law. This is essential to an education that values global citizenship and civic responsibility.

Local Community Building: The freedom to share copies of GNU/Linux and other Free software means students and teachers can install this software on their computers at home. By contrast, proprietary software forbids this. Many teachers, students, and parents will want to have copies of the software used at school on their personal machines. When a school uses proprietary software, it compels community members to acquire their own restricted copies if they wish to compute using the same technology. By using Free software, a school does not pressure community members to purchase (or illegally acquire) equivalent software. Free software puts no limits upon the community.*

Global Community Building: Any money or effort spent by the school on the development of Free software can go directly toward improvements that other schools and organizations are free to benefit from. Those investments are sustainable as no developer can unilaterally choose to discontinue distribution. Additionally, simply by using Free software schools add to its economic value (via the network effect) and receive the benefits of source code peer-review from a global community. Using Free software is to participate in a cooperating community with no borders.

Depth of Learning Opportunities: Software is fundamentally a set of mathematical and logical instructions expressed in something called source code. Typically, the source code for proprietary software is kept a trade secret. Without source code, knowledge of software is kept shallow and the ability to modify (i.e. experiment with) it is impossible. Because Free software makes its source code available, the science behind such software can be studied by students. A Free software system is especially fitting for educational environments as any level of curiosity can be satisfied. Tools that are open for students to tinker with broadens learning opportunities and fosters community when those same tools are used by the students’ peers and teachers.

Security: Free software programs are adept at warding off viruses. Successfully planting a back-door in a popular Free software program is virtually impossible due to public scrutiny of the source code. Public peer review acts as an effective defense against the dangers of worms and trojan horses. The security a Free software program offers is a positive in terms of the productivity of users and a school’s technical staff.

Constructive Spending: Typically, using Free software instead of proprietary software releases funds that can be spent on developing desired software features or other school-related needs (e.g. professional development, facilities, books, etc). By contrast, using proprietary software means funds are directed toward perpetual licensing fees and upgrades – some of which are compelling whether or not the school sees a need.

Performance On Hardware and Hardware Life
: While not an inherent property of Free software, GNU/Linux is known as a lightweight and customizable system that performs well on older hardware and new hardware with low specifications (e.g. netbooks). This can translate into savings and waste reduction by extending hardware life.

Data Ownership and Vendor Choice: Free software is closely coupled to open standards for file formats. Students and teachers using Free software are ensured their information is stored indefinitely in universally accessible formats. Vendor lock-in through proprietary formats is never an issue when using Free software applications. Schools that adopt Free software are free to seek support and services from businesses of their choice.

* Some Free software does put a limit on individual community members (or companies) distributing copies. Sometimes, conveyed (i.e. distributed) Free software must carry with it the complete corresponding source code and the license the conveyor received with her or his own copy. This is known as copylefted Free software. Non-copylefted Free software is permissive, as it can be re-distributed as proprietary software.

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2 Responses to “how Free software supports schools”

  1. Matt Ledding Says:

    Great points, especially about security, which is a fear factor for many schoolboards.

  2. vivek anand Says:

    good one article.

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