A major player in the knowledge economy
Open-source software in schools will be the driving force for Gordon Brown’s proposed ‘Knowledge Economy’, it was claimed today.
The claim comes from Bluefountain, after massive cross-party backbench support for a change in government policy for IT in education. Nearly one in five backbenchers from all parties questioned the exclusion of open-source software from UK schools.
In response to an early-day motion (EDM) tabled by John Pugh MP, supporters of open-source software questioned the government policy, claiming it stifles innovation and locks users into high-cost software. Aiden Mcguire, managing director at Bluefountain, believes this will be instrumental to the Government's proposed Knowledge Economy.
“Unlike proprietary software which is locked and must be shared around by buying licences, the nature of open source means that children can learn how to write and install their own software,” he claimed. This, he believes, “will get children interested in IT early and encourage them to train a job in this, or similar sectors”.
Another important factor was the cost. “Like in all public sectors, schools are under a huge strain to keep to budgets without compromising the quality of their services,” said Mcguire.
MP Pugh believes that “a school is a key part of the community and as such has a role to play in the economy of that community”.
However, not everyone shares the same view, despite extensive research by the Government's education ICT quango, both Becta, The British Educational Communications and Technology Agency, and the Association of school and college leaders, ASCL, believe that proprietary software is the best way forward for schools to evolve.
Malcolm Trobe, head teacher and president of the ASCL, claimed that while they recognised the budget implications shared by Mcguire and Pugh, common specifications and interoperability found in proprietary software would do more to benefit school children.
“Nearly every household has a PC with Microsoft Office installed and many students have grown up using it," he claimed. "For those who have not got the software at home, schools can either provide students with a licence and unique password or students can buy the software at special student prices.”
Becta also shared this point. In a prepared statement it claimed: “Schools and colleges must be able to make an informed choice about the software they need – be it open source or proprietary – and to be aware of the total cost of ownership of that software, including sustainable support and training."
But the organisation was quick to point out that it in principle supports the use of open-source software and recognises the value-for-money it offers.
The EDM, tabled in November 2006, paves the way for more discussions next year.
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