Free software equalizes economic segregation in schools

15. Apr 2016 | Douglas DeMaio | No License

William Shakespeare once wrote that “it is not in the stars to hold our destiny but in ourselves.” Fine words from an educated and knowledgeable man who was born privileged, but his words hold true that our destiny is not predetermined.

Dan Rather, who is just as poetic with his words, had a similar message last week we when he spoke at the National School Board Association Conference in Boston.

I, along with other members of the openSUSE community, were fortunate enough to attend Rather’s keynote speech. Rather, who came from a small farming town in Texas and whose father was a ditch digger, credits self-determination, his wife and great teachers, who believe and care about students, as a key to his prosperity.

What I also learned at this school boards conference is that unlike other nations, school budgets in the United States have a significant amount of funding based on local property tax, which creates economic segregation in schools.

The one thing the schools do share equally is a common goal of having one-to-one (1:1) computing so each child can have a computer, which they can use to enhance learning of Sciences, Technologies, Engineering, and Math (STEM).

nsbaWhile some districts can afford new Mac computers, others can’t. Why a district would want to purchase Macs for STEM learning is beyond me; it appears to be more of a status symbol for the district than a learning initiative for students, especially when educational budgets are always a topic of discussion. The students and school districts that have the Macs will be at a disadvantage for what educators call College and Career Readiness (CCR) as opposed to the students that are running Free Open Source Software (FOSS). The districts will also find they are locked into a specific technological vendors.

Districts who provide students less expensive computers running openSUSE Education or other FOSS distribution have the advantage of using the full computer system. They are not locked into to specific vendors and have the the added benefit of cost reductions and creating user solutions through FOSS. There is also the added value of longer equipment life cycles.

Districts using FOSS will quickly learn of the potential it has and how they can use it to implement STEM and CCR success like Penn Manor HS, who presented the school’s success at the conference with using FOSS.

FOSS provides freedom and is a great equalizer in education; that is something the community building free software can be proud of. We are providing liberating and useful technologies for students around the world who may be at a disadvantage. I would encourage anyone reading this to have a conversation with a teacher or school administrator about the benefits of FOSS. That caring gives teachers and students an opportunity to prosper and allows them to create their own destiny.

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