Public schools making MS Office mandatory

Paul Boddie paul at
Thu Apr 7 17:11:33 UTC 2016

On Thursday 7. April 2016 18.29.49 Timothy Pearson wrote:
> On 04/07/2016 06:14 AM, Guido Arnold wrote:
> > Hello,
> > 
> > I produced a summary of a longer debate on the German discussion
> > list which addressed a lot of aspects that may be relevant to other
> > European countries. Please comment here on this list or per PM. The
> > text below is also available as a blog post [0].
> As distasteful as I find this I think I can see why it is being done.
> No government wants people coming out of its educational system that are
> unfamiliar with the "basic" technology in use around the world.

This argument about what was called "industry standard" software has been 
around since the 1980s. In the UK, with a battle between proprietary platforms 
- the one dominant in education and the one becoming dominant in workplaces - 
the argument went that children should learn the thing being used in 
workplaces in order to train them for work.

(One can argue whether schools are supposed to be training rather than 
educating, but that's another debate. Given that computing was also meant to 
be applied to most subjects and be used as an educational tool, it was also 
questionable that one particular application - office technology - should have 
been prioritised, but that's also another debate.)

The flaw in this familiarity argument was that anyone learning the currently-
popular workplace software was always going to be behind the curve: by the 
time they had left school, even if they went straight into work and not 
entered further/higher education first, the chances were that they would be 
using different products. In fact, the flaw was compounded by the fact that 
the "education" platform in question had superior products in certain respects 
that more closely resembled the "industry" platform's products of a few years 
later than the "industry" platform's own products did when the children were 
being made to use them.

(I saw this for myself since I used the "education" platform at home, whereas 
the school's computers were mostly running stuff using DOS, and even the few 
Windows computers were running primitive versions of the products people take 
for granted today. Indeed, some aspects of Office are probably still deficient 
in comparison to the software I was using at the end of the 1980s and the 
start of the 1990s.)

And to keep up with "industry standards", sustained expenditure is needed: 
rather than there being a change in favoured products, it is now more likely 
that everyone is on the version upgrade treadmill. Whether schools should have 
the same budgetary priorities as businesses is another discussion to be had.

Personally, I welcome the single-board computer trend because it disrupts that 
upgrade treadmill, usually introduces Free Software, shows people that you can 
do the same with much less (and at much less cost), and allows for a broader 
range of experiences that would probably serve everybody better than a rigid 
training programme for software the children may never use again (especially 
in light of changes in the way computing is done, thanks to a wider range of 
devices being used than was traditionally the case).


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