Why Educational Institutions Should Use and Teach Free Software
"Schools should teach their students to be citizens of a strong, capable, independent and free society."
These are the main reasons why universities and schools of all levels should use exclusively Free Software.
Schools should teach the value of sharing by setting an example. Free software supports education by allowing the sharing of knowledge and tools:
- Knowledge. Many young students have a talent for programing; they are fascinated with computers and eager to learn how their systems work. With proprietary software, this information is a secret so teachers have no way of making it available to their students. But if it is Free Software, the teacher can explain the basic subject and then hand out the source code for the student to read and learn.
- Tools. Teachers can hand out to students copies of the programs they use in the classroom so that they can use them at home. With Free Software, copying is not only authorized, it is encouraged.
Computing has become an essential part of everyday life. Digital technology is transforming society very quickly, and schools have an influence on the future of society. Their mission is to get students ready to participate in a free digital society by teaching them the skills to make it easy for them to take control of their own lives. Software should not be under the power of a software developer who unilaterally makes decisions that nobody else can change. Educational institutions should not allow proprietary software companies to impose their power on the rest of society and its future.
Schools have an ethical responsibility to teach strength, not dependency on a single product or a specific powerful company. Furthermore, by choosing to use Free Software, the school itself gains independence from any commercial interests and it avoids vendor lock-in.
- Proprietary software companies use schools and universities as a springboard to reach users and thus impose their software on society as a whole. They offer discounts, or even gratis copies of their proprietary programs to educational institutions, so that students will learn to use them and become dependent on them. After these students graduate, neither they nor their future employers will be offered discounted copies. Essentially, what these companies are doing is they are recruiting schools and universities into agents to lead people to permanent lifelong dependency.
- Free software licenses do not expire, which means that once Free Software is adopted, institutions remain independent from the vendor. Moreover, Free Software licenses grant users the rights not only to use the software as they wish, to copy it and distribute it, but also to modify it in order to meet their own needs. Therefore, if institutions eventually wish to implement a particular function in a piece of software, they can engage the services of any developer to accomplish the task, independently from the original vendor.
When deciding where they will study, more and more students are considering whether a university teaches computer science and software development using Free Software. Free software means that students are free to study how the programs work and to learn how to adapt them for their own needs. Learning about Free Software also helps in studying software development ethics and professional practice.
This is an obvious advantage that will appeal immediately to many school administrators, but it is a marginal benefit. The main point of this aspect is that by being authorized to distribute copies of the programs at little or no cost, schools can actually aid families facing financial issues, thus promoting fairness and equal opportunities of learning among students.
Stable, secure and easily installed Free Software solutions are available for education already. In any case, excellence of performance is a secondary benefit; the ultimate goal is freedom for computer users.