There are general reasons why all computer users should insist on free software: it gives users the freedom to control their own computers; with proprietary software, the computer does what the software owner wants it to do, not what the user wants it to do. Free software also gives users the freedom to cooperate with each other, to lead an upright life. These reasons apply to schools as they do to everyone. The purpose of this article is to state additional reasons that apply specifically to education.
Reasons to use FOSS in schools
Educational activities (including schools) have a duty to teach only free software. Here are the reasons:
First, free software can save schools money. Free software gives schools, like other users, the freedom to copy and redistribute the software, so the school system can make copies for all the computers they have. In poor countries, this can help close the digital divide.
This obvious reason, while important in practical terms, is rather shallow. And proprietary software developers can eliminate this reason by donating copies to the schools. (Warning: a school that accepts such an offer may have to pay for upgrades later.) So let's look at the deeper reasons.
Schools have a social mission: to teach students to be citizens of a strong, capable, independent, cooperating and free society. They should promote the use of free software just as they promote recycling. If schools teach students free software, then the students will tend to use free software after they graduate. This will help society as a whole escape from being dominated (and gouged) by megacorporations.
What schools should refuse to do is teach dependence. Those corporations offer free samples to schools for the same reason tobacco companies distribute free cigarettes to minors: to get children addicted . They will not give discounts to these students once they've grown up and graduated.
Free software permits students to learn how software works. Some students, on reaching their teens, want to learn everything there is to know about their computer and its software. They are intensely curious to read the source code of the programs that they use every day. To learn to write good code, students need to read lots of code and write lots of code. They need to read and understand real programs that people really use. Only free software permits this.
Proprietary software rejects their thirst for knowledge: it says, “The knowledge you want is a secret—learning is forbidden!” Free software encourages everyone to learn. The free software community rejects the “priesthood of technology”, which keeps the general public in ignorance of how technology works; we encourage students of any age and situation to read the source code and learn as much as they want to know. Schools that use free software will enable gifted programming students to advance.
The deepest reason for using free software in schools is for moral education. We expect schools to teach students basic facts and useful skills, but that is not their whole job. The most fundamental job of schools is to teach good citizenship, which includes the habit of helping others. In the area of computing, this means teaching people to share software. Schools, starting from nursery school, should tell their pupils, “If you bring software to school, you must share it with the other students. And you must show the source code to the class, in case someone wants to learn.”
Of course, the school must practice what it preaches: all the software installed by the school should be available for students to copy, take home, and redistribute further.
Teaching the students to use free software, and to participate in the free software community, is a hands-on civics lesson. It also teaches students the role model of public service rather than that of tycoons. All levels of school should use free software.
How to get your local schools talking about Free Software in this SFD!
Get your local school or college talking about Free Software this Software Freedom Day! Giving a talk to students, teaching a class, providing demonstrations of Free Software, showing films about Free Software, and handing out Free Software CDs are all great ways of engaging young people. Free Software is a major part of most workplaces and provides the core of the world's most popular websites. Young people are greatly affected by the software that they use, and SFD is a great way to reach them. Contact your local educational establishment and ask them about paying a visit. Since SFD falls on a Saturday, try to make an appointment for a day either side of the weekend.
Who to contact
- If you have personal contacts at a school or college, now is the time to use them!
- Contacting the IT department directly might be a good way to find staff who are interested in SFD and could make your visit easier.
- If there are any upcoming open days at the school or college then you can take the opportunity to visit and ask in person about your potential visit.
When to contact them
The sooner the better! Be sure to make contact as soon as the school year begins, and a minimum of two weeks before your intended visit.
What to say
Your request to visit should include:
- An introduction to SFD
- A brief outline of what Free Software is, or what you are going to talk about
- Who you are
- When you would like to visit
- How long you would like to stay
A template of a letter to send to your local school or college can be found below. Change the <CAPITALISED> text to suit your needs.
"Software Freedom Day (SFD) is a global event which celebrates Free Software. It is an opportunity for communities to share the knowledge and benefits of using collaborative, community made technology. Groups all over the world participate in the event; hundreds have already registered this year, and more than one thousands groups are anticipated to celebrate the day itself. This year SFD occurs on September 18th. I live in <location>, and will be taking part.
< NAME OF EDUCATIONAL ESTABLISHMENT> is one of my local <SCHOOLS / COLLEGES / HIGH SCHOOLS>, and I'd like to invite your students to participate. I suggest that I visit < NAME OF EDUCATIONAL ESTABLISHMENT> and <GIVE A TALK / HOST A DEMO EVENT / TEACH A CLASS / PRESENT A FILM / HAND OUT CDs> on <SCHOOL DAY DATE>.
I believe that education in technology is critically important. Technologies, and particularly computers, are having an enormous impact on students both inside and outside of the classroom. It is important for students to have access to information about how technologies work, and have the freedom to choose and change the software that they use. Free Software gives back to students the ability to study how software works, modify it for their own needs, use it for any purpose that they wish, and share it with others. Free Software is already used in all of <YOUR COUNTRY'S> largest organisations, and also forms the core technology of the Internet, as well as its most popular services.
I hope that you agree that Free Software is an important subject for children to engage with, in order to prepare and equip them for study and workplaces of the future. With this in mind I would be delighted if you would accept my invitation to visit you.
Please tell me when would be convenient for me to arrive, and any special considerations that I should make when visiting.
Looking forward to your reply,
<YOUR NAME> <TELEPHONE NUMBER>