03 March 2010

Schools for Scandal - the UK's

Here's an interesting piece about software in UK schools. There are a couple of remarks that although incidental, are incredibly revealing of all that's wrong with UK schools in this respect:

several people told me of contracts which meant that every time a school wanted to upgrade software, or even install something free like Mozilla Firefox, they had to pay a hefty fee to their contractor. That meant they were reluctant to change anything, with the result that software was soon out of date.


I spoke to Tom Barrett, a Nottinghamshire primary school teacher, who's part of network of like-minded individuals trying out new methods. Tom told me about a lesson where he was teaching probability by asking friends on the Twitter social network to predict the likelihood of snow in their part of the world.

It sounded like an engaging lesson - and the technology cost nothing. Of course there are computers and electronic whiteboards in Tom Barrett's school - but he says using free software or indeed gadgets like mobile phones which children bring to school themselves means added flexibility: "I think some of the larger scale projects like Building Schools for the Future... have been guilty of taking too long to roll out." The danger then, he says, is that the technology moves on, whereas with free software you can keep up to date at no cost.

Obviously, it's scandalous that schools not only don't have the option to install Firefox in the first place - since it's much safer than Internet Explorer - but that they must *pay* to install it afterwards. As the article rightly notes, this means they also pay in another way, through lock-in to old software because they can't afford to do so.

Meanwhile, the other quotation hints at what might be achieved if only free software were more widely deployed: the ability to "keep up to date at no cost".

The fact that this is still a problem in 2010, with schools still locked in to a scelerotic Microsoft monoculture, is a huge blot on the record of all those responsible.

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Michael Kay said...

It's certainly bad that schools are still making such heavy use of proprietary software. But I'm not sure it's bad that they should outsource the management of their networks, or that the contract with the outsourcer should demand a payment for each change that is requested and implemented. You would expect to pay an electrician for changing a light bulb, even if the light bulb is free.

Glyn Moody said...

@Michael: I'm not against the outsourcing, it's the unreasonable charges they make. Charing for the installation of Firefox is outrageous, and is clearly acting as a brake on its uptake.

Let them charge for stuff that requires their skills - not just for every trivial change.