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Letter to Education Secretary, Government of Karnataka, Advocating Adoption of FOSS in State IT Academies

Posted by Sanchia de Souza at May 19, 2009 04:45 PM |
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The Centre for Internet and Society is a signatory to a letter being sent to the Education Secretary, Government of Karnataka, advocating the adoption of FOSS at state IT academies.

The state of Karnataka has signed a Memorandum of Understanding with Microsoft under which three IT academies have been established in the state, in Bangalore, Dharwad and Gulbarga, in 2004-05. Government school teachers are being trained at these academies. As per the MOU, only Microsoft decides the curriculum at these academies, and only Microsoft software applications are being taught to the teachers. This MOU will expire in the coming academic year. Therefore, Gurumurthy Kasinathan and members of the FOSS community in India are sending a letter to the Education Secretary for the state of Karnataka, advocating the adoption of a FOSS-based curriculum in these IT academies, and explaining why this would be a useful move.

The Centre for Internet and Society is one of the signatories to this letter, which is reproduced below.



The Education Secretary

Government of Karnataka

MS Building

Bangalore, Karnataka.

Sub – Microsoft IT Academies in Karnataka

Dear Sri Nadadur,

Karnataka has a MOU with Microsoft under which three 'IT Academies' have been established in the State, in Bangalore, Dharwad and Gulbarga during 2004-05. Government school teachers are being trained in these academies. As per the MOU, only Microsoft decides the curriculum in these academies, and only Microsoft software applications are being taught to the teachers.

There are a couple of issues with this program.

Firstly Microsoft does not allow the teaching of software other than their own proprietary products. This deprives the teachers from learning alternative Free and Open Source Software (FOSS) platforms. There are compelling pedagogical, economic, social and political reasons why the education system needs to adopt and promote FOSS. Free software is software which gives the users the freedom to use, study, modify and share, while in the case of proprietary software, the vendor prevents the study, modification and distribution of the software. The freedoms of FOSS provide users and the rest of society with several important advantages, which are briefly listed below:

a. With proprietary software, the teachers only learn be superficial 'users'. This is because, proprietary software companies prevent access to the “source code” that goes into the creation of software. With FOSS, students can learn not only how to use software, but also how create and modify the software applications. Hence with FOSS, students will not just be passive users but will actually construct knowledge. As we know, 'Constructivism' is a key feature of the National Curriculum Framework 2005.

b. FOSS supports the creation of local language versions of the software. For example, Kerala has locally created software in Malayalam for its IT@School program. Similarly the Kannada community Sampada has created a complete Kannada distribution by customising existing FOSS software.

Though Microsoft has provided Windows and Microsoft Office gratis at these academies, it does not provide the same software to the teachers who are trained at the centre. Hence the teachers who intend to purchase computers would need to shell out considerable amounts for the software which they have become used to in the schools. However, if the teachers are trained on FOSS alternatives to Windows and Office, at at negligible price (the cost of a CD which is around Rupees ten), each teacher can be a given a copy of the software. The training can also cover the installation of the software, if required. In this way, the teacher training can lead to the actual use of computers in the schools and teachers homes and make the training meaningful and lead to the greater dispersion of ICTs. Currently, most teachers learn to use these products but have no continuity of learning which makes the training futile.

Of course, the issue of FOSS is not only one of cost. Even if proprietary software were offered free of cost, our nation will eventually have economic losses, due to permanent dependency on software monopoly.

These are some of the reasons why Karnataka has chosen FOSS in its own ICT@Schools program. The computers in Karnataka schools run on GNU/Linux platform under this program. We would like to submit that the teacher training in the IT Academies at Bangalore, Dharwad and Gulbarga also need to be aligned to the IT@School program, and hence teachers should be taught on the same FOSS software platforms as well.

We had a meeting with Ms Vandita Sharma last November, along with Dr Richard Stallman, the founder of the global Free Software movement, and explained these issues. She was sympathetic to these arguments on the public benefits from FOSS and mentioned that the department would take appropriate action in this regard as is consistent with the public interest and those of the teachers and children in our government schools. She mentioned that the MOU with Microsoft is expiring in the coming academic year and and requested us to formally write to her in this regard, hence this letter.

We request that the Government take a firm stance in favor of adopting and promoting FOSS and chose FOSS in its software procurement to align the department to the government schools.

A few months back, organisations that are working to promote FOSS came together to establish a 'Coalition of the FOSS Community in India' whose goal is to collaborate with governments and other organisations to promote the adoption of FOSS, specially in the public sector. Several of the member of this coalition are based in Bangalore, including the Centre for Internet and Society, Sampada, Swatantra Malayalam Computing, Deeproot Linux, IT for Change etc. Faculty from IIM-B, Bangalore University as well as other academic institutions are also members of this coalition. Members of this coalition are willing to provide any technical support or guidance that the government may require in this regard. For eg, FOSS curriculum for both schools and for teacher training is available in Kerala and can be adapted to Karnataka schools. It should be noted that FOSS is already being used in many institutions in Karnataka, including IISC, IIIT-B, IIIT-H, IITK and many engineering colleges.

We hope our submission will be considered by the education department as well as by the government and we look forward to working with you to help bring these ideals into reality. If you think it would be useful, we could plan a small workshop / interaction, or even a series of workshops for different stakeholders, to discuss the issue in more detail and look at the implications of the choice of the software platforms for the ICT programs in the department.

We look forward to your response.

Yours truly

Gurumurthy Kasinathan and members of the FOSS community in India (list of signatories is provided overleaf)

May 9th 2009.

Copy - Commissioner for Public Instruction, Sri Kumar Naik

Copy - State Project Director, Sarva Shiksha Abhiyaan, Sri Selva Kumar

Copy - Principal Secretary, DPAR (Dept of Personnel and Administrative Reforms) e-Governance

Copy - Principal Secretary, Department of IT


Why Government of Karnataka should adopt and promote FOSS

Kerala IT@Schools project

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