Public schools making MS Office mandatory

Paul Boddie paul at
Thu Apr 7 20:37:31 UTC 2016

On Thursday 7. April 2016 19.25.28 Timothy Pearson wrote:
> Also, one aspect I did not bring up is that by standardizing the
> platform you can to a large extent standardize the curriculum built on
> that platform.  This is very attractive at the scale of most educational
> institutions; by forcing the exact same tools for all students, it
> eliminates another potential cause for one student to be performing
> better or worse than another.

This kind of thing is what effectively happened in the 1980s, at least in the 
UK, where the chosen platform provided the anointed version of BASIC as well 
as various other languages and tools as options, thus getting around the chaos 
that existed at the start of that decade with regard to what could be taught. 
Here's a nice reminder of what people were dealing with at the time (see the 
"Usborne 1980s computer books" section):

Even then, providing enough computers for an entire class - if that was how 
they were going to be used - was an expensive endeavour, and I guess that many 
schools were not (at least initially) able to benefit from this kind of 
product-specific standardisation because they were dealing with different 
models of different vintages (which would also cause squabbling about who got 
to use the latest machines in the class - who wants to use a monochrome-only 
computer when there's a multi-colour one? - and so on).

A note on basic skills, though: a few years ago, I had to help my boss teach 
non-computing scientific people various tools, and part of that involved 
introducing the notion of the plain text file. The "industry standard" 
advocates would, of course, override any teaching of such concepts and direct 
everyone to the applications, which would be the Office suite, of course. We 
spent quite some time showing people that a program called Notepad existed and 
that Word was not going to allow them to edit a configuration file or look at 
their data, or whatever task it was that they needed to accomplish. (The 
GNU/Linux and Mac crowd didn't need the same hand-holding, probably because 
those people had already exercised informed choice and were interested in the 
workings of computers somewhat already.)

As soon as you have to make time for such unexpected extra tuition, that two-
day course starts to feel really short. Indeed, I started to understand why 
universities sometimes complain about the skills of new students, although in 
this case it was a university dealing with its own students.


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