[LCA2015-Chat] Getting FOSS into schools (was: Re: RFC Parenting Miniconf at lca2016)

Jonathan Woithe jwoithe at atrad.com.au
Fri Jan 23 10:26:18 AEDT 2015

On Fri, Jan 23, 2015 at 08:18:57AM +1000, Arjen Lentz wrote:
> An easy way to get stuff into a kindy/school at first is not a complete CD,
> or liveCD stuff  (linux looks like windows for a lay person, there's
> nothing cool there), but offering to install GCompris for them on whatever
> they already have running.

In some cases this can work.  In many others it won't fly.  Many schools in
Australia have outsourced the management of their computing
infrastructure[1] and people at the schools are not able to install anything
themselves.  Everything needs to go through the contractor, and they
themselves are under instructions to reject anything that's not approved by
the principal or board.

Unfortunately, principals these days seem to fall[2] for whatever flashy IT
fad has been pushed at the latest EduTech[3] event or equivalent (I have
seen this happen at our children's primary school at least three times over
the past 8 years[4]).  As it says on the EduTech event website:

  EduTECH(R) is the only event that brings together the entire education and
  training sector (primary, secondary, tertiary, higher education and
  workplace learning) plus libraries, plus government, plus suppliers...from
  every state in Australia, plus New Zealand, Asia and internationally#.. all
  under one roof.

Most interpret this to mean that every possible supplier and option worth
considering is on show, and limit their considerations to whatever is being
peddled any particular year.  Regrettably, FOSS is almost if not completely
absent from this (and similar) events, so those making decisions about IT in
our schools have no exposure to FOSS at all.

That FOSS is not on show at events like this is not surprising: such events
are designed by vendors of proprietary systems to convince schools to sink
yet more money into their wares, and the FOSS community in general is not
set up to partake in commercial marketing exercises such as this (the
significant cost of having a stand being only one impediment).

FOSS will certainly make inroads into some Australian schools: those where a
teacher is a FOSS proponent or there is an active FOSS group of volunteers
who can affort to invest a significant amount of time in the school.  We've
seen a number of presentations about situations like this at past LCAs.  In
addition, some selected FOSS applications might be picked up here and there,
even in locked down schools.  However, given the control that proprietary
vendors have over the education sector in Australia at present, it is sadly
very hard to see how FOSS can make significant inroads (such as replacing
proprietary productivity suites for example).  I would *love* to work to
change this but unfortunately I simply don't have the time.

Fortunately the situation isn't quite as bad in some other countries.

It might be interesting to have a discussion about this situation at a
future parenting miniconf. :-)

Ok, I'll get off the soapbox now.  This is getting slightly off-topic -
sorry.  Subject altered accordingly.


[1] In Australia this is often at inflated prices, since IT consultants have
identified schools to be a bit of a cash cow due to the general lack of low
level IT knowledge found across staff and how easy this makes it to charge
for a whole bunch of unnecessary things.

[2] Usually without any consideration of the impact such decisions have on
the privacy of the children who are as young as 8 (or sometimes even
younger), or their work.

[3] http://www.edutech.net.au/

[4] I personally think that pushing extensive IT infrastructure use across
all levels of primary school in particular is doing the students a
disservice, but that's another topic entirely.

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