Free Software in Education

School based Education is the corner stone on which we shape society. It is not meant to be a system merely impart mere information into people like a vessel but it also teaches people how to think for themselves and impart how society as a whole should act.

How a school conducts itself will be reflected in how the student impact the outside world. In a more specific fashion, how they conduct the ideas of freedoms and the spread of information will impact how the students will treat freedom in the outside world.

When it comes to computing this has become a major issue. Most schools nowadays predominantly use non-free software while rarely communicating the ideas of sharing in a relation to software. Most of this non-free software is in this schools for two main reasons. Firstly, the momentum that proprietary software has in the world due to non-free standards being adopted in the past. Secondly, a lot of non-free software is provided to schools at little to no cost to encourage the schools to install it. This is done so that students will favor this software in future.

This does a few things to the students.

It implies that proprietary software is the only way that someone can achieve various computing tasks. By recommending and pushing software of this nature it will inherently limit the students from seeking alternatives that will treat them fairly. Without suggestions for free alternatives, there is little chance for the ideas of freedom to flourish in this environment and provides little change for change to system that treat people fairly.

It forces student into malicious software, ones that have the potential to limit their opportunities to produce desired results and also have the ability to invade their privacy. Non-free programs typically use non-free formats and as such can hold the students work hostage of a particular piece of software. A worse issue is schools using SaaS (Software as a Service) (Online only programs) as it means that the users have no control over any part of the program and the data they put into it. A student who needs an education as a basic human right should never have to give up their privacy to do so. Tools should not be used against students for the sole sake of profits.

Non-free programs also discourage sharing between students. If a program is non-free then students are stuck using these programs in a restrictive manner. If a friend or fellow student needs a copy of a program and cannot afford it then they cannot get a copy off a friend without breaking the law. Student should never be forced to break the law just to get an education.

In a more specific case, if the students are learning how to program a computer or figure out how a program works then a non-free program will not be of any use to these students. A non-free program is a black box that cannot be inspected and even if one figures out how to, that is an illegal act under most non-free licenses. With Free Software the student should get a copy of the source code allowing them to inspect how it operates, make changes and be encouraged to share these changes with other students.

Free software provides solutions to all these problems. You are free to share software between friends and students alike, this means that they will not be restricted due to a financial issue or because of a licensing issue. It encourages sharing and the spread of knowledge not just directly in terms of the programs they users run but also the source code that can be studied, modified and shared. This alone has the ability to grow peoples skills and personalities but to also help out the greater civilization.

Education should never be a black box that is defined purely by commercial interests. It should encourage everyone involved to learn how to learn, how to share/work with others and how to avoid being sucked into potential traps. It is these noble goals that have allowed for Free Software to be made and for projects such as Wikipedia to be the worlds best encyclopedia ever produced. Non-free software aims to discourage this kind of thinking.

Education institutions should insist on using only free software - if they do this then they will produce good citizens, ones that want to grow the world not just for themselves but for everyone around them. To lead by example and show that we can makes changes that are good for everyone involved and not just tow the line of profits driven conformity.