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Using Open-Source Software (OSS) in Schools

By Heather Marie Kosur

Opting for open-source software (OSS) in the classroom does not need necessarily mean a sudden switching away from proprietary software. However, educators must realize that OSS is an ideal alternative with a host of benefits.

What Is Open Source Software?

Learning With Open-Source Software Open-source software (OSS) for schools, which strangely is not as popular as it should be, may be defined as a potent tool that makes it easy for students, parents, and school administrators to access software without the need to buy expensive licenses or to download, sometimes illegally, programs.Open-source software is an "operating system and/or applications software for which the code is open for alteration by the public" that has its own integrated system of word processes, easily manageable databases, advanced spreadsheet tools, and other presentation uses that are comparable with Microsoft tools like Excel, PowerPoint, and Word. Best of all, open-source software comes completely free of charge.

OSS Applications at Schools

It is rather unfortunate that in many school systems, the computer software is limited and inhibits students from gaining foundational information. The use of closed proprietary software entails an invitation to buy the upgraded versions of the software even though it may be ill-suited for educational purposes and only drain the scant school monetary resources. The use of closed software in education may be acceptable only in extreme cases where no suitable OSS solution is possible.

The fundamental purpose of any school system is dissemination of knowledge, and it can be best achieved only by openly sharing information. Collectively then, the school system reaps the benefits of informational advancement of human knowledge. The entire world is on the threshold of the Information Age. So, it is no longer adequate to merely teach students to use closed, proprietary software solutions.

School administration must realize the varied benefits that open-source software can bring to learning, teaching, involving parents, managing information and resources, and handling overall school administration. The role of educators is to fight all censorship and other impediments to the free flow of knowledge and uninhibited spread of information. The restrictions today are the licenses schools are required to receive that act as tools to arrestthe development rather than promote academic growth in this information age.

Benefits of Using OSS in Schools

It is reported that using OSS will reduce licensing costs for schools. For instance, the cost per computer at the primary school level for OSS schools may be 50% of that of non-OSS schools, and the cost per computer at the secondary school level will be nearly 20% less than that of the non-OSS schools. Apart from the cost aspect, there are other non-monetary benefits like the freedom to opt for the right type of software the school needs, greater participation and involvement in project community, and the feasibility of using the same platform within and outside of the schools.

Open-source software is by far more adaptable to school environments than proprietary software. There is no denying that a commercial software developer is in business to make money by offering upgrades and extra functionality for additional payment whereas the OSS products are not driven by commercial interests. In fact, the open-source software learning platform is the outcome of the hard work of a team which works hard to accomplish a common goal: education and knowledge.

Note: European schools encourage the use of OSS very much; however, in American schools, open-source software is not as popular as it should be. The main reason: Commercialization is dominant in most of the schools in the United States.

Opting Against OSS

What is most puzzling about open-source software in schools is that, despite the free availability of OSS, many schools still do not opt for it as a way to save vast sums of money. Most critics opine that governmental education programs are not enthusiastic enough in promoting open-source software. Many believe that, in public education, one should use, as far as possible, more economical and appropriate education alternatives. Several insiders comment that dedicated teachers who are always looking ahead to serve the cause of education are too busy and are often less receptive to change and therefore resist the open-source software movement.

Senior educators in schools should encourage the use of OSS instead of MS Office platforms. Senior educators must also understand that there is no need to drastically change everything all at once. OSS can be made to work well side-by-side with proprietary software as a transitional measure. Of course, it will also take time to learn and use the new systems and arrangements must be made for training during the initial phase. However, the benefits of using open-source software in schools vastly outweighs any of the initial inconveniences.