Education and Open Source
I really need to rant and fume a bit about the dutch education system – and I will end with some free promotion for an Open Source centered conference in my own city.
I have a son, he is in Secondary School now. But even in Primary School, he was exposed to a Microsoft-dominated IT infrastructure. He would work on texts in MS Word, and create presentations in MS PowerPoint or even MS Visio.
The problems for parents would inevitably start when the kids were sent home with instructions to finish their school assignments at home, effectively forcing the parents to buy copies of MS Office Professional or “go illegal”. The LibreOffice suite did not exist back then, and OpenOffice was not able to cope with Visio files (and quite honesly, could not cope well with complex Word documents either). at the time, I used a web-based MS Office conversion tool to create PDF files of the stuff my son brought home for printing (because colour printing at school would cost money).
Asking the local IT guy about Linux based education possibilities or even opportunities (my own expertise counts for something, you’d think) would only return blank stares. Apparently Microsoft has invested serious money in SURFMarket (joint venture with KennisNet and SURF) to ensure that dutch educational institutes are being supplied with Microsoft software at bargain prices, so that there is no incentive to look for alternatives. Which is detrimental to the development of the children, because they are not learning about Information Technology… they are learning how to operate MS Office.
In comparison, look at the initiatives in the UK, where the government-funded BBC sparked the development of the Acorn computer (Acorn developed the ARM CPU -originally an acronym for Acorn Risc Machine), and a few years ago this concept was rebooted by a couple of awesome guys from the University of Cambridge in the form of the Raspberry Pi, an ideal target for Computer Education in primary school. I can only look at the British in envy, and seriously think that the dutch have made fatal errors in long-term strategic decisions regarding the education of new geneations.
Fast forward to Secondary School.
Every pupil in my son’s school is required to have access to a Windows computer at home. The only software used at school is Microsoft based. Luckily the Document Foundation has spent a tremendous effort at making the LibeOffice suite more interoperable with the Microsoft counterpart, so there are ways around the Windows office requirements at school.
However there is still one major stumbling block. An by major, I mean stupid policy-makers are apparently being bought. Our Secondary school, one of many similar schools, has moved its Student Registration and Management system to Magister. Magister is built on Microsoft’s Silverlight content creation sofrtware, which is of course not cross-platform.
On Linux, an open-source Silverlight implementation called Moonlight (part of Mono) has been available for a while but its development has ceased. Petitions (from school teachers even) to provide alternatives that would work on Linux and Mac computers have not been honoured. A lot of links prove how bad the situation is and I could easily produce a lot more (most are in dutch by the way).
I am forced to use Silverlight. That is bad, when you consider that the dutch government has pledged to promote the use of Open Software and Open Standards – first through ICTU‘s OSOSS program, and later through the NOIV program. When that program ended, the message was that the government would not divert from this strategy in future. Ha ha ha.
I have been using a Chrome plugin that renders Silverlight pages on-line but the company which ran the service has closed shop last year. I am now looking at Pipelight, which is a cross-browser plugin which uses a patched version of Wine to render Silverlight pages locally. Expect Slackware packages soon, if it impresses me sufficiently. I want to be able to monitor my son’s progress on my Slackware computer dammit!
I am not venting my anger just because I can not bear it any longer. I wanted to take the opportunity and do a bit of PR for an event that will be taking place in Eindhoven, mu home town. There is a lot to learn there about proper and effective use of Open Source and Open Standards in eduction.
If you are interested, consider visiting T-DOSE in the weekend of 26-27 october. T-DOSE is a free yearly recurring conference to promote the use and development of Open Source Software. I did a talk about the history of Slackware at the 2009 edition (I was so terribly ill and ran on paracetamol… but the talk was OK). This year the conference will run a full “track” consisting of several talks related to education and Open Source – I do not even mention all of them:
- Open Source Onderwijs, de gang van zaken
- De ‘open’ generatiekloof anno 2013
- Opleidingen moeten leren met een office-programma om te gaan!
- 15 j Open source bij Don Bosco Wilrijk (Antwerpen), infrastructuur en ondersteunende applicaties in een kleine schoolomgeving
- Open ICT is een basisvoorziening
- Website@School: een website content management systeem (CMS) speciaal voor het basisonderwijs
- Presentatie: Linux Flavourz Education Foundation
And for those who are interested in hands-on experience on top of the talks, an Open Source Class Room demonstration enviroment will be available during the whole event.
It’s free entry people! And if you are planning to go, leave a note here and you may meet me during drinks.