What benefice does free software bring to education (precollege)?

Posted 18 Apr 2001 at 02:14 UTC by hilaire Share This

Education and free software

Dear all,

In the perspective of education, free software gives the possibility to share the software among all the members of a school communauty.

In the other hand, education institution with a small I.T. budget may prefere using free software; however in some occasion the use of unlicensed software is also an alternative.

Anyway, the gratis aspect of free software is the 1st benefice coming in mind. However this is only one part of the whole story. The fact is the source code is also a part of what receive the user (here the teacher or student). Does it bring something else ? Even more important than the gratis aspect of the software?

We all thing yes, the student can learn from the source code; however this is our personnal believing and probably a very biased view from people that use to write code.

What is the real benefice of the source code sharing in the field of education?

How deeply can be involved student or teacher in the developpment process of free software?

In the other hand a lot of free software not specificly written for secondary education may be used in schools? How these software operates?

A lot of these software are scientific ones, what is the benefice or unbenefice of that one in the field of education?

You see, we can say a lot about free software in education and we can say a lot of stupid things. Here in this forum, it will be very interesting to hear the people's opinions and the people's experiences, specifcly from ones involved in education and using (or developping or whatever) free software.


Note: Here by education, I mean pre-college education. In the case of college education, the benefice are much more obvious.

shame about spelling etc, posted 19 Apr 2001 at 01:32 UTC by Denny » (Journeyer)

I could really use a well-written article on this subject to pass onto various people in the UK who are looking into this issue... but I don't think this is it. Sorry to the author, but I presume English isn't your first language?

Perhaps I should write my own article instead of waiting for someone else to do it :)


Where is really the shame?, posted 19 Apr 2001 at 07:27 UTC by hilaire » (Master)

Dear Denny

You are right English is not my first language. Does it mean I shouldn't have to right to communicate?

Sure I could use a perfect French, but for sure you will then be the first to complain.

Are you sure the shame is on this side?


Use your dict, posted 19 Apr 2001 at 07:36 UTC by hilaire » (Master)

Denny, Deny,

Au fait, cet article n'est pas destiné à être utilisé pour le passer autour de soit dans le but de convaincre de l'usage des logiciels libres dans l'éducation. Mais il s'agit plutôt d'un questionnement de fond sur le bénéfice des logiciels libres dans l'éducation au delà de l'argument de gratuité. Bien sûr ta réponse n'a apporté aucune élément sur ces points, seulement la conviction de ta vanité.


It's all in the head, posted 19 Apr 2001 at 11:59 UTC by lemmit » (Observer)

The obviously good sides of Linux in education are the price, can't beat that, and show me an educational institution that has too much money. Besides the price, there is also the operating system vs Windows, Excel vs spreadsheet etc function to Linux. As most use MS Windows and its kin, having a decent Linux based course would be an eye-opener in so many ways.

Unfortunately, I don't believe it could work, at the moment, where I live at least (Estonia). I think this also holds true for most other countries. Have a look in the computer ads - "The perfect office computer - 700MHz, 128MB RAM, 10-20GB HD, 16MB ATI" - What the heck? Why would anyone need _this_ to do spreadshets and word processing!? Well, we know all the answers, but you go and try to explain to someone who is used to wasting ~90% of their CPU cycles on nothing that a modest X-terminal will do. Nope. And this goes for schools as well as offices.

So basically, I do not believe in Linux doing anything revolutionary in education anytime soon. Not because it is not a better solution, but because people tend to overestimate their needs for bells and whistles...

Of course - when all you have are old Pentiums, things can be a lot different. And probably we'll see many more users of Linux and other free OSes in countries where there is neither the money for new hardware nor software (MS?) Licenses.

My 2 cents (can anyone tell me what this actually means)

software to offer, posted 19 Apr 2001 at 18:51 UTC by sej » (Master)

I have free drawing software to offer to pre-college kids that might be a good match for their educational needs. First off, the interactive user interface for drawing is similar to MacDraw, and has none of that Adobe-style complexity aimed at professional graphic artists. Secondly, several of the editors feature a simple (yet full strength) scripting language that can be used to teach programming, with the added advantage of instantaneous visual feedback for the student. For example:

for(x=0 x<10 x++ for(y=0 y<10 y++ ellipse(x*50,y*50,10,10)))

will draw a ramp of circles diagonally across the screen. There is support for all the mathematical functions known by a high-school student, and all the graphics primitives. What better way to learn about constructive geometry.

In the world of open-source there are many ways of accomplishing the same, but few are as simple or self-contained as this. Even still, take a look at all the stuff at the vector graphics foundry, and enjoy, learn, and teach as you go.

Sorry to offend, wasn't intended that way, posted 19 Apr 2001 at 20:51 UTC by Denny » (Journeyer)

Hilaire, I think you read far too much into my brief comment about the standard of English in your article. It wasn't meant to be a personal attack and I'm slightly disappointed that you (a) interpreted it that way and (b) responded in kind (I'm not actually particularly vain, rather the opposite in fact).

My point was that it doesn't convey your points very well (or at all in places) as the sentences don't actually make sense - therefore the reader can't understand what point you are trying to get across. You have the right to communicate, but you are not taking full advantage of it unless you communicate effectively. The 'shame' in my comment's title is possibly a collequial use of the word - it means that it is unfortunate that the article is not more readable, as I think a well-written article on this subject would be very valuable to the community. This doesn't mean that you should be ashamed in any way - please don't get the idea that I am insulting you, I'm not!

One thing that confuses me is, who is your target audience for this article, if it is not meant for distribution? Persuading free software developers that free software is a Good Thing (tm) is not much of a challenge. If you intend to convince the people who make the decisions about IS in educational establishments then you are in the wrong place. That is why the free software / open source community needs a well written article on this topic that is intended for distribution...

A large part of the problem, not understood by those not actively working in this particular area, is that the main barrier to getting free software in schools, at least in the UK, is not technical, nor is it financial, nor is it educational. It is political. There is a shortlist of approved suppliers from whom schools must purchase their IS. There are currently exactly zero free software / open source software solutions providers on this list.

The main benefit of using free software in schools, as someone else already pointed out, is not access to source code - this is of interest to a relatively small amount of pupils in a school. Rather, the main benefit can be seen from teaching people to use a computer, instead of teaching them to use Windows 98 (for instance), teaching them to use a spreadsheet rather than teaching them to use Excel. Much IT training in schools is far too product focused, and although this has short-term benefits for final year pupils as they enter the job market, it doesn't help them later in their careers, when the product specific details they have learnt become irrelevant. Nor does it help the first year pupils, who will learn about Win98 this year, but by the time they leave school very few commercial environments will be using that version of Windows any more and their hightly specialised knowledge will be of little use to them. This is a particular problem when schools cannot afford to buy licenses for the latest commercial offerings every year, and so they are training their pupils in the minutiae of a product that lacks relevance even now, let alone in three or four years time.

The free (gratis) element of free software is of little or no use to schools as you correctly observed, largely because the actual costs of running a system far outweigh the initial investment costs, even with the punitive pricing of Microsoft licenses. The costs of running a Linux/Unix network are actually higher than an MS one because a unix sysadmin can charge more for their (rarer) skills.

I hope this is more the kind of reply you were hoping for. In future, if you're going to be so sensitive about what kind of replies you get, perhaps you shouldn't publish in public forums? Try and take things a little less seriously... life is too short for getting stressed about every little thing!

Regards, Denny

PS - "My two cents": corruption of "My two pence worth", which arises from the need to pay a small sum of money (2p) before being allowed to inflict your opinion on those around you - a custom unfortunately not enforced on the Internet :)

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