Becta fails the open source test

Becta fails the open source test

Summary: Update: The government agency has been accused of excluding open source software from its educational software databases, despite highlighting the money that could be saved

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The UK government agency responsible for the use of IT in education has been accused of inconsistency in its strategy towards open source, following the discovery that it has omitted many open source products from educational software databases.

Becta, the British Educational Communications and Technology Association, published a report last May which concluded that primary schools could cut computer costs by nearly half if they stopped buying, operating and supporting products from software vendors such as Microsoft.

But the information provided by Becta is not always consistent with this strategy, according to Paul Jenkins, the managing director of open source consultancy SimpleICT. In a special report on the use of open source in education published on ZDNet UK on Tuesday, he points out that its educational software database lists only a few applications that can run on Linux.

The database only lists 18 applications that run on Linux, compared to over 3000 applications that run on various versions of Windows, and appears to omit all educational open source applications.

"TuxMaths is a great maths programme for kids, but it's not in there. In fact nothing is in there," said Jenkins. "So if you were a teacher and you wanted to use Linux then this official site tells you that there is no software for it. It's a shambles,".

A Becta spokesman said on Tuesday that the Web site is in the process of being closed and that in future, users will be encouraged to refer to the Curriculum Online database instead.

But the Curriculum Online database, which claims to list "all the multimedia resources to support teaching and learning that your school can buy", also appears to exclude open source software. A search of all English, Maths and Science software for all age groups came up with only two references to open source educational resources.

Becta admitted on Wednesday that only one provider in the Curriculum Online database states that their material is open source, but said that open source products can be added if certain criteria are met. More details on Becta’s criteria, and how to add products can be found on the Curriculum Online Web site.

Earlier in the week, Becta said its policy on open source was made clear in the report published last year.

"This report indicates that open source software can provide a cost-effective and efficient solution in schools if effectively deployed. Becta believes that software used in schools should be of a high quality and adhere to open standards, enabling compatibility and interoperability between products," said the spokesman.

For more on the use of open source in education, and why few schools are using open source, read ZDNet UK's special report on open source in education.

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  • Having been a delegate at the last BECTA conference I can only agree that the view of Free and Open Source Software (FOSS) within BECTA is very mixed. I spoke to some who agreed wholeheartedly that there was a very firm place for FOSS within schools. Others, almost viciously, dismissed the thought as some kind of hippy dream.

    It should be noted that when you pay for software, you provide the vendors with the necessary to oil the wheels for their products within the corridors of power. I cannot comment on whether this has actually happened, just that some within the official government agencies seem to be almost religiously opposed to FOSS.
    anonymous