[PLUG] Great Initiative by State Govt. to Provide free laptop and free Linux OS!

chetan patil chtpatil at gmail.com
Mon Jun 27 02:55:14 PDT 2011


*Free or open source for students?*

Vasudha Venugopal

 CHENNAI: Recent discussions on which software package to be incorporated in
the free laptops to be distributed to students this year in Tamil Nadu have
highlighted the attempts across the country to promote the use of Free and
Open Source Software in education and other fields.

While the government's tender specifications call for dual-booted laptops
offering the Windows starter edition and Linux (Tamil version), activists
say it must be only an open source.

An oft-cited example is the IT at School project, started by the Kerala
government in 2003. “We had both Windows and Linux initially, but we
migrated to the open source completely in 2008,” says K Anvar Sadath,
executive director of the project.

While Swecha of Andhra Pradesh is also striving to train students and
teachers in free software, Assam, Punjab and Haryana have started using open
source software in education.

It is unfortunate that while in the West, the dependence on proprietary
software is decreasing, the developing countries are giving in to predatory
marketing tactics, says Atul Chitnis, consulting technologist and founder,

Training of teachers can go on simultaneously, says Mr. Anvar, recalling his
experience of training more than 10,000 teachers in a month through
videoconferencing facilitated by the open source environment.

Now Kerala has 600 open source learning centres across 14 districts,
offering specialised training in animation, graphics and multimedia on open
source technologies, apart from regular education.

Gurumurthy Kasinathan of the Bangalore-based IT for Change says: “Many free
educational software applications, bundled with Ubuntu GNU/Linux, are
powerful in helping teachers and students understand concepts in math,
science and social sciences.”

S. Shanu, convener of the Free Software Foundation, Tamil Nadu, says
linguistic flexibility is a big advantage of free software. The culture of
innovation and community-based support systems can transform the way
students think. Some industry professionals and government officials cite
authentication, warranty and access as reasons for preferring proprietary
software to open source technologies. “If you want to buy a proprietary
system, you pick up one, but how many local directories tell you what to do
if you need open source software. Heterogeneous environments of companies
train us to choose the best tool for the job, considering compatibility with
specialised applications and vendor support,” says Suresh Ramanujan, a
software consultant.

However, academics feel, it is the flexibility to understand the logic of
the software that an open source offers, which is the key. “The question is
what kind of learning process are we encouraging among students, and not if
we should let them decide on their own, says Pratap Reddy, Chairman, Board
of Studies, Jawaharlal Nehru Technical University.

The stack of free software for school education is so huge that it does not
need a learning management system or specially designed tools for building
it, say experts.

Chetan Arvind Patil,

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