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GNU Health Conference  Nov 18-20, Las Palmas, Spain #GNUHealthCon2016

Free Software for Education

Here are two lists of high-quality free/libre software applications that can be used in schools and educational institutions of all levels. The first one is a list of free/libre programs along with the popular proprietary applications they replace. The second one contains free/libre programs that do not necessarily replace a proprietary counterpart but can be very useful to students and teachers.

All these programs are released under a license that is granted for zero price and does not expire. While we are glad that schools can also save money with these programs, avoiding miseducation (teaching dependence on nonfree software) is a more important imperative: when we say these programs are free software, we are talking about freedom, not price. It means that you are free to use them constructively, either alone or in a community, while respecting the freedom of others.

Everyone should use free software, because only free software gives users the freedom to control their own computers. However, there are specific ethical reasons that apply to education.

In addition to the wrong of nonfree software, the use of third-party network services in schools poses yet another problem: the collection of students (and teachers) personal data by companies.

But even if the school never used those services, it could not be sure that the machines are not sending data. In fact, the source code of proprietary programs (with a few exceptions) is secret, so users don't know what the software is really doing.

Category Free/libre program Features Replacement for (Google) Replacement for (Microsoft)
Operating systems Trisquel GNU/Linux Composed exclusively of software that respects your freedom. ChromeOS, ChromiumOS Windows (any version)
Web browsers Web, GNU IceCat These browsers do not track users. Chrome, Chromium Internet Explorer, Microsoft Edge
Office LibreOffice Powerful office suite. Documents are not uploaded to third-party servers. ---- Microsoft Office, Office 365
Etherpad, EtherCalc Real-time collaborative text editor and spreadsheet that run in your browser. Google Docs, Sheets ----
E-learning platforms Moodle Entirely self-hosted. Manage classrooms and courses, give lessons and assignments, create groups, take tests, synchronize data and collaborate in forums, chats and wikis. Google Classroom ----
File synchronization ownCloud Entirely self-hosted. Allows collaborative document editing and bookmark synchronization as well. Google Drive, Calendar, Contacts OneDrive, Outlook
Media sharing GNU MediaGoblin Entirely self-hosted. Can share all kinds of media in safety. Youtube, Google Photos, Picasa ----
Email Kolab Entirely self-hosted. Complete groupware solution which includes email, calendar, address books, file synching and tasks. Clients are based on Roundcube (web interface) by default but any other email client can be used. This way, only the school can read the students' mail, and nobody else. Gmail, Google Calendar, Contacts, Google Drive Outlook, Live
Chat (audio,video, text) Jitsi, Jitsi Meet (browser-based) Entirely self-hosted (Prosody is recommended as a XMPP server) and browser-based. Students can chat across many platforms without their faces being scanned by facial recognition algorithms and their voice and text being recorded. Google Hangouts Skype
Games Minetest Build, explore and play in vast cube worlds, alone or with friends. Create mods which aren't limited by proprietary restrictions. ---- Minecraft

Here's some additional free software useful for educational purposes:

Category Free/libre program Description
Art, graphics and design Blender 3D suite which includes a video editor and a game engine that can be used without programming (via logic blocks.)
FreeCAD High-quality parametric 3D CAD modeler.
GIMP Graphics editor suitable for image retouching, editing and drawing (case study.)
Krita Fully featured, easy to use digital painting program, suitable for students and professionals alike.
Tux Paint Graphics editor aimed at young children (case study.)
Games and educational activities GCompris Educational software suite comprising of numerous activities for children aged 2 to 10 (case study.)
Maths GNU Octave High-level interpreted language similar to proprietary MATLAB, primarily intended for numerical computations.
Physics FisicaLab Solve physics problems creatively. Focus in physics concepts while the program takes care of the mathematical details.
Music GNU Solfege Ear and music training program.
LMMS Professional-grade (but easy to use) music creation software and digital audio workstation.
MuseScore Fully featured scorewriter, with support for MIDI playback.
Programming GDevelop Codeless game development tool based on drag and drop. Ideal to teach students programming concepts while having fun.
Racket Battery-included programming language and environment suitable for both students and Lisp/Scheme wizards. Despite it being a fully-featured functional programming language, it was designed to be educational.

The lists above are a selection of free software applications suitable for the most common educational activities. The Free Software Foundation keeps a comprehensive database of educational software at the Free Software Directory. If you know about a free/libre program suited for schools and is not listed there, please contact us at <education@gnu.org> to let us know.


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