[Fsfe-ie] Ireland OA policy

Bob Jolliffe bobjolliffe at gmail.com
Thu Jan 22 11:13:59 CET 2009

Hi Ken

No I didn't see the letter.  Though I think the issues are probably a
little bit more nuanced than the writer paints them, it is great to
see there is some resistance out there.

If we were to take this up as an issue I think:

(1) we would have to be able to present good working alternatives to
the windows PC in schools.  This is more than an OS issue.  It is
about understanding the range of software currently used in schools,
understanding the full gamut of offerings available under a free
operating system and making a case that what is on offer (free
software) is a reasonable match for the requirements;

(2) in support of above we should be able to provide good case study
support from other public sector education free software projects.
There are good and bad examples to choose from.  The web is also awash
with announcements of projects, but there is less available in terms
of objective evaluation; probably we can draw upon European contacts
to get more info on projects like Geneva and Extremadura (Spain);

(3) any cost related arguments have to be made in the context where
Microsoft can (and has recently done) slash it's costs to schools to
whatever point is required to ensure its dominance.

(4) common arguments used against the use of free software in public
schools are (a) it doesn't make sense for teachers and learners to
work on software which is not market-dominant (b) the lack of
education specific, curriculum supporting software (c) the lack of
teacher training (most teachers are MS 'literate') and (d) the lack of
widespread technical support from the SME sector.

I think there are good counter-arguments, or at least sensible and
workable ways of addressing, all of these issues, but such points need
to be well made and disseminated which does require a certain amount
of effort.

It would obviously be ideal to have the support of a Minister behind
such a drive, but I am not so sure that this would be forthcoming.  At
least not overtly.  I wonder if it would make sense to try and seek
sponsorship more broadly for a high-visibility free software in Irish
schools event if Eamon Ryan doesn't bite.  It would be entertaining to
have his own grassroots (the Greens) behind it.  Perhaps some
corporate sponsorship from IBM, Canonical, RedHat, MS(?), but civil
society driven.  I don't know.  It is maybe too ambitious a project to
undertake.  But I do think that something like this which raises
awareness and visibility would reinforce the case for challenging the
current procurement relationship which the state seems to have with MS
regarding schools.  Whether anyone has the time or energy is another

Here's a glossy bit of propaganda on MS Learning Suite:
.  Check out the "See how Andy created .." and "See how Philip uses
.." links.  On looking at these a two things come to mind - (a) they
show examples of creative use of standard software rather than
particularly education oriented software.  Similar material could be
demonstrated with free software.  On a pretty basic level
(technically, not educationally) I have seen some really good use of
Moodle for example in Irish schools.  Not quite as glossy as making
movies, but very educationally rich, interactive and stimulating.  (b)
from what we have seen from the ICT in Schools report very, very few
schools would have either the computers or the staff to be able to
actually do such things in practice.  Which is not to say they
shouldn't be done (or couldn't be done with free software) but it
seems like a good example of a technology-driven, utopian and
decidedly non-green agenda which is designed to perpetually push the
envelop on expenditure on ICT in public schools.  Personally i would
like to see much more expenditure directed towards warm-ware (teachers
and pupils) than hardware and software.


2009/1/21 Ken Guest <ken at linux.ie>:
> That reminds me - did anybody else read this letter in the Irish Times from
> about a month ago?
> http://www.irishtimes.com/newspaper/letters/2008/1216/1229035766488.html
> k.

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