Why aren't schools using open source software?

The BBC asked a similar question as they covered the British Education Training and Technology show.With Open Source Software (OSS) freely available, covering almost every requirement in the national curriculum, a question has to be asked why schools do not back it more fully, possibly saving millions of pounds...

The BBC asked a similar question as they covered the British Education Training and Technology show.

With Open Source Software (OSS) freely available, covering almost every requirement in the national curriculum, a question has to be asked why schools do not back it more fully, possibly saving millions of pounds...In the education sector, OSS is promoted and used by only a handful of self-motivated technologists looking to stretch their technology budget.

Critics say Becta - the government agency that oversees the procurement of all technology for schools - has not done enough to promote OSS.

In the States, the use of open source software often feels actively discouraged; it certainly wouldn't be encouraged or promoted by a government agency. However, Europe as a whole generally tends to be more pro-open source than the US.

The question remains valid, though, regardless of the side of the pond on which you reside. Especially in public education, where taxpayer dollars are hard at work, it makes sense that we should use free alternatives wherever possible, doesn't it? Obviously, if the free alternatives aren't functionally equivalent, are hard to use, are unstable, don't support critical applications, etc., then proprietary solutions shouldn't be ignored just because they're made in Redmond.

As one consultant pointed out,

"They don't want to move away from what they know, not just to Linux but equally to Vista and Office 2007 as well. Good teachers will always be looking to move forward but they are so busy that they are often conservative...

Being fiscally conservative is incredibly important, too, though. I met with a lot of resistance rolling NeoOffice in our elementary schools instead of paying for upgrades to Office 2008. Now, with a couple of vocal exceptions, users are happy with the choice and many have installed OpenOffice at home.

Using open source software doesn't need to mean switching everyone to Linux. It does mean being aware that free, highly usable alternatives exist to many expensive solutions.

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