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Open source in school

What is it all about? Which are the "keywords" we must know? What kind of influence could it have on the education system's different areas? Clear answers are not at hand, partly due to the strong cultural impact involved

Though much has been written and said about Opensource and free software in school, many teachers are still unfamiliar with the terms and concepts. To avoid possible confusion, in the More Resources chapter various categories of software are defined, i.e. to point out clearly the difference between the terms "Free software" and "Opensource", often used as synonyms. Though they are part of the same phenomenon, they belong to different categories because of the license terms ruling their use

Open Source is suited to the education system for various reasons:

  • It allows the students to learn more because they can "see what's inside" and understand better how computers and operating systems work;
  • It widens the learning spectrum of the students promoting the creation of different skills;
  • It makes the reuse of obsolete hardware systems still available in the school possible, helping to reduce the total cost for hardware and software;
  • It is practically virus-free.

The issue of Open source software is widely debated in school, often related to very different use:

  1. Adoption of Linux operating system for server;
  2. Use of office automation suites (i.e.: OpenOffice for ECDL) debating the classic issue: Is it better to teach students to use products most requested by the "market" or free software that gives more competence, allowing them to analyse how it works?;
  3. Teaching of various subjects (i.e.: opensource applications to teach physics);
  4. Basic computer teaching in primary school;
  5. Computer science teaching for technical school students;
  6. Networks and on-line services management.

The trend is toward increasing use of Linux, especially in Technical and Vocational schools.

However, these experiments are limited to some excellence cases. These practices are difficult to scale up and apply to the basic educational curriculum.

In the new edition of the questionnaire on school LAN ssome questions on use of free software could help to monitor its diffusion..

A critical issue is the lack of professional human resources in schools, both in terms of skills and of the number of people available. The funds saved using free software should be reinvested in training.

The integration of the various proprietary and open source platforms is another critical point. Schools interested in the open source paradigm will have to choose whether to make a radical change or to opt for mixed "blended” solutions.

The ability to make informed, autonomous choices will open new perspectives for Open Source in school.

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1 Outlook on use of OSS in school
2 Use
3 Motivation
4 Cultural impact
 
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