Recently, I was reading the biography of an online acquaintance, when I happened to notice a tag ‘School admin’. That made me think about how many schools in my locality gives such an opportunity to students. Sadly none (none of the popular ones, to the best of my knowledge). Moreover, I wonder how many of them have machines that run Free software and GNU/Linux.
Let’s see why it is essential for schools to use only Free Software, both for their educational as well as computing purposes.
The four Freedoms that the Free Software provides the user and the community are:
->The freedom to run the program, for any purpose (freedom 0)
->The freedom to study how the program works, and change it to make it do what you wish (freedom 1). Access to the source code is a precondition for this.
->The freedom to redistribute copies so you can help your neighbor (freedom 2).
->The freedom to distribute copies of your modified versions to others (freedom 3). By doing this you can give the whole community a chance to benefit from your changes. Access to the source code is a precondition for this.
The most basic reason why schools should use Free Software is that since it is free of any licensing, schools can save a lot on this aspect. The funds and resources available with schools are limited. If at all a school has to pay some institute so as to alter the Free Software to suit their particular needs, this cost can be shared with other schools by sharing the modified versions with them. Freedom 3 clearly permits this.
Now let’s look into the humanitarian aspect. Let’s suppose that a student brings a proprietary software to his class. One of his friend asks him for a copy of this software. Now the student who brought the software will have to choose between two evils- either violate the copyright law by sharing the software with his friend, or disappoint his friend by not sharing with him. Even if he chooses not to dissappoint his friend, and shares it with him, his friend will have only an unauthorized copy of the propritary software. Propritary software says, ‘Don’t value brotherhood’ and it infringes on one’s basic right to share. Since schools are places where the basic concepts of sharing and brotherhood are to be taught, proprietary software doesn’ t find a place here.
Every school teaches programming. If a student asks his teacher about how a particular function of a program is implemented, the teacher will be pretty clueless if the software in question is a proprietary one. But in the case of Free Software, Freedom 2 allow users to study how the program works. Thus a student (and teacher) is able to analyze the working of each segment of the software. This helps in better understanding of the concepts rather than just reading books. In effect, use of Free Software builds better, fine and ‘human’ programmers!
There are some people who have the opinion that children at schools should be taught both Free as well as proprietary software. This is like saying, we provide both whiskey and water! Learning to use proprietary software, should be left to the discretion of individuals, and it is not something that is to be taught at schools. By teaching to use proprietary software, we are teaching them to be prisoners of that software! Give them Freedom!!!
Interested students should be given the responsibility of the systems administrator (at least to some extent). They can be encouraged to develop new software, write codes, understand computers in a much better way. They even have the support of a whole Open community out there to help and guide them.
According to the Free Software Foundation, Free software gives you back the control of your computer.
Students do not earn, but learn. So they shouldn’t naturally be made to spend on licenses nor use unauthorized copies of software. Most often, they are tempted to use unauthorized copies of proprietary software and share amongst themselves and others. And this continues when they grow up. So why blame them for violating license terms when they are not educated about an alternative?
At one of the stalls in Swathanthra (a Free Software fest conducted by SJCET, Palai), I found a small kid (around 12 years) and his mother, so much interested in the Free software, the hardware implementation of Freedom Toaster, asking questions and so on. Such is the level of curiosity and keenness to learn for kids. This has to be tapped in the correct direction at the right age.
It would be much against the odds to alter the syllabus and stuff in this direction. But it is always possible to give them extras!! So all the teachers out there in the schools, open the world of Freedom to your students and give them the power!
(most of this ‘updated’ article is an excerpt from a speech delivered by Richard M. Stallman at SJCET, Palai, on 9th Sept. 2010)