5 Dec 2003 mdupont   » (Master)

Dear all, Here is a longer post of mine that should summ up my ideas on freedom in education.

Just found this new post: Stallman's Recent essay on Schools

It was linked from The Gnu-Friends

Which has an article from Sirian S11 Article on GNU Friends

Who is a leading member of the fsedu project The FSEdu Project

Now, what I would like to point out here, is an important point that came up in my discussions with Red HatAdvogatoArticle

What are the rights of a natural person? Do they have the rights to use free software? Do they have the rights to use only free software? My answer is yes: that is a right that they have, untill it is taken away or sold.

If we analyse the transactions leading up to the loss of rights, you will see the breaking points:

  • The school gets software and in turn sells the rights of the students to use Free Software.
  • The teacher requires that the student submit assignments using non-free file formats.
  • The student buys student licensed software with the added conditions that they are monitored for illegal usage.
  • The school has an online course that is only usable using non Free Software.

In order to save money, people resort to illegal copying:

  • The schools install new pcs with software that is not licensed.
  • The student installs illegal copies of the non-free software in order to be able to fulfill requirements
  • Courses that would be possible are not done because of lacking budget for software.

All of the possiblities are happening today in schools around the word. People's rights are being sold out to software vendors, with the follow ups of surveilence of the students and illegal copying to offset costs.

This illegal activity is a result of the original step of the decision to sell the rights of the students to use free software. A downward spiral ending in the criminalization of the students and teachers gets put into place.

The proper solution to the problem is to use only Free Software in the schools. For that to happen however, the Free Software community needs to be able to deliver the solution. And we need to make people aware of the dangers of non-free software in education.

The awareness is the problem however for many reasons :

  • The educational sector is lacking in general any idea of freedom. They are completly used to having to buy text books, buy software, pay for expensive and freedom-robbing solutions. When you come with software that is free, then you are fighting against an entrenched non-free community that really does not appreciate it.

  • The OSS(Open Source Software) companies are making a large amount of money off of non-free learning materials and courseware. The entire Red Hat academy is corrupted, in my opinion, with non-free software. This lacking of support from even the OSS industry makes it harder to get support in the community.

  • The students are not aware of thier freedoms. They are taught from the beginning to accept the non free software, to respect licenses. They are being taught to be consumers in a right-less society where they are just digging deeper the hole of IP. It is very scary and difficult for them say no. There needs to be a support organisation for that saying "no" to take place. And many people are scared of "rocking the boat". If they are going to an good school, they might be already aware of the inbalance in the rights of the people, and be learning to exploit that for thier own benefits. Thus, the students might not see Free Software as to thier own advantage!

  • The teachers: Teachers are gaining from the lack of rights. People producing learning materials do not want to have these materials easily copied, because they lose revenue. They are used to non-free software and see it as a loss to give up on them and learn new software.

  • The government: May people in the boards of education are dealing directly with software vendors. They are becoming pushers of non-free software and selling the rights of thier students.

The requirements for a solution are following.

  • Education in rights

    The first thing that people need to learn about is their rights. They need to understand what basic rights they have. We need courses in software licensing and contractual law for people to learn about how to read contracts. People need to be able to submit contracts for review to a body of experts for classification and help.

  • Whistelblowing

    We need a central way for students and teachers to blow the whistle on schools. When a student is forced to install non-free software, or sees that a school is installing more licenses than they have, we need to track that in a database. In fact, it might be needed that students register what software is installed so that it can be checked if it is licensed.

    That is one way to promote free software: eliminate the usage of illegal versions of non-free software.

  • Means of payment

    The only real way to provide educational materials that are of high quality is to provide for a way for people who work on them to live! If there is no payment, then there is no way to ensure quality.

    One idea that we have come up with is a framework for allowing people to create content and sell that. The idea would be that people would provide content to fulfill a curicula, and that subscribers would pay for that to be created. They would receive a copy of the content and also online support and tutoring from the teacher, for which they would pay. The end result would be that the results are published under a Free license that allows for reuse of the content. The course would be financed by the payment for the service of teaching and testing which is reimbursed. The same applies for the supporting of schools with installation and support services. Only when there exists a infrastructure for supporting a large school that is cost effective will free software succeed in schools.

  • Awareness and activism: The final solution is activism. There needs to be a way to promote Free Software in the schools, the boards of education and the government. We need a way to deliver this software to the people and to support them. This can only happen when there is a respectable and solid basis for it.

In total the prospect of Free Software in education is very bad. It will be a slow process that might only happen when there is a generation change in our society. It can also be that our society is not ready to accept the social and political revolution that is brought by the giving freedom back to the students.

mike removed typos, fixed grammer BAD SPELLERS OF THE WORLD: UNTIE!!

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