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Thursday, March 24, 2005

Open Source Software in Schools

Here I interjected into a conversation between two classmates...

Yes, cost is always a factor. However, when the use of technology becomes a core value, funds can be redirected.

I agree whole heartedly. A few years ago we found that at our high school of 1200 students we were spending between 30 and 40 thousand dollars a year on paper alone! (For handouts, quizzes, memos etc.) If teachers and students are using electronic means of communicating and sharing information, then spending this money on paper is not necessary... and the tools it could be used to buy and maintain instead would be able to do far more than the paper could! Now this doesn't close the entire gap to 1:1 computing... note that this savings is only about $30 per student per year... but if other funds, such as text book funds (at about $75 per student per subject!) are also redirected... then a $200 handheld, or $500 iBook (their cost in bulk) is no longer so far out of reach. And, if this $100 laptop idea becomes a reality, the goal of 1:1 computing will be even more easily achieved.

Newer is NOT always better and it most certainly is not less costly...

One of the secrets of the $100 laptop is the lack of licensing costs.. because it will run open source software. Even at bulk education pricing, running a distribution of Linux (such as Fedora Core instead of Windows and running Open Office instead of MS Office can save a school at least $100 per machine. Programs such as the GIMP, a free alternative to Photoshop, can save schools hundreds of dollars per machine.

And, if the schools decide it's advantageous, they can upgrade as early and often as developers can release new code. They can also use their existing hardware longer running open source software. If you presume that schools would buy at least one OS upgrade for each machine... this is an addition $50 to $100 savings over using Windows (or OS X for that matter).

Here is a link to a document which is a great introduction to open source in education.

http://mark.wagner.name/documents/oss-school.doc

-Mark

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