[Linux-aus] Getting FOSS into schools

Jonathan Woithe jwoithe at just42.net
Wed May 16 11:02:16 EST 2012

On Wed, May 16, 2012 at 09:59:45AM +1000, Donna Benjamin wrote:
> Not so long ago FOSS was deemed unacceptable in Victorian Gov schools.

Wow.  On what basis?  I never realised FOSS was actively banned like this.

> Unfortunately, due to a wickedly successful long term partnership
> between the dept of ed, the vic IT teachers asn and Microsoft most
> senior IT teachers in VIC teach VB. ...

This sort of partnership (and the freebies that come along with it) are not,
it seems, limited only to programming and VisBas.  At least not in South

> In 2006, at the LCA education miniconf, we realised there were very few
> teachers present.  To talk to teachers about open source, we needed to
> go to their conferences. I've been doing that every year since ...

That's great news.

> When you say "We should do more" what do you actually mean?

Pretty much what you went on to say. :-)  What's required is a coordinated
strategy to promote FOSS in education across the country, and provide
followup, support and training.  That's what the corporates are doing and
that's what the education sector is clearly attracted to.

> What's lacking here is not good will and intent, and options, and
> success stories but an over-arching strategy, and the time and resources
> to implement it.

Agree 100%.  And it's that last bit - the time and resources - which, I
suspect, is the major sticking point.  Doing all this is going to be hard
work - certainly more than I suspect anyone can realistically expect unpaid
volunteers to do.

> Having a stall at $edutechshow is effectively a waste of time and money
> without a coordinated plan for following up, and an ongoing program of
> activity and promotion.

I totally agree and couldn't have said it better myself.  It was written in
an earlier email:

  If memory serves, LA has accepted grant requests to enable people to
  attend events like this.

  You make a very strong case for why we should do so again - but I haven't
  seen a grant request yet

The above comment from Donna is precisely why I haven't even considered
putting in a grant for attending an event like this.  Without a coordinated
effort backing it up it simply won't fly, and sadly I am not in a position
to dedicate the required time and energy into getting something like this up
and running.  Nor am I particularly well-versed in the knowledge or contacts
required to make it work.

In other words, before attending conferences and the like we need to have
the underlying structures which Donna spoke about in place.  Otherwise it'll
be a cart-before-the-horse situation.

> And most of all... an education focussed reason for using FOSS.  How
> does FOSS enhance learning? How does it assist busy, tired, overburdened
> teachers to better do their jobs?

Indeed.  Bravo.

I'd actually add that the education sector requires an education focussed
reason for using ICT.  So many such programs that I've seen (particularly in
primary schools) appear to have been done just for the sake of having an ICT
program in place so that box can be ticked in the prospectus - any
educational benefit to the students is a bonus, but often tenuous.

It pains me to say it, but I think all this pretty much sums up the state of
play with FOSS and schools.  Unless a champion can set in place the kind of
support structure the sector is expecting, the reality is that very little
will change.  There will be isolated successes for FOSS when local
conditions make FOSS attractive, but by and large the sector will continue
to be dominated by proprietary offerings.  Whether the champion comes in the
form of a grass-roots organisation, or an existing higher level organisation
which finally "sees the light" (as has happened in other countries) remains
to be seen.

Given the limited resources available and assuming this won't change any
time soon, maybe lobbying those higher-level organisations to educate them
about the benefits of FOSS may be the best approach.  And perhaps this is
already happening behind the scenes.  It won't achieve quick results but
over a 10-20 year timeframe it may result in a greater FOSS awareness among
those who ultimately control the education programs in this country.

In the meantime, maybe this thread will serve as a reference to show why
getting FOSS into schools isn't nearly as straight-forward as it may first


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