Letter to the Ontario Minister of Education about software policy.

The following is a letter I wrote to the Ontario Minister of Education, with a copy to my MPP for Ottawa South. (Republished as an article on p2pnet, referenced from Linux.org, rlhc.net)

Dear Hon. Sandra Pupatello, Minister of Education, Minister Responsible for Women’s Issues

Copy to Hon. Dalton McGuinty , Premier, Minister of Research and Innovation, and member for my riding of Ottawa South.

I was just told a good-news story about a Toronto area high school computer science teacher who has been using the Linux operating system exclusively in his classroom for the past 5 years. Linux is a very well known collaboratively developed operating system that is not only free for teachers and students to use without additional payment, but also provides the source code so that students can dive deeply into how the software works. Linux provides the same level of access to prior knowledge that students need to learn as providing books in English class provides. Protecting the ability of people to run, copy, distribute, study, change and improve the software is how Free/Libre and Open Source Software (FLOSS) is defined, with Linux being one example of FLOSS software.

The bad-news part of the story is that the school recently dismantled the already running Linux lab and told the teacher that he *must* only teach Microsoft software. Microsoft jealously guards the source code to their software, disallowing teachers and students from studying and improving the software. This is like disallowing English students from reading or building upon existing literature. While Microsoft software might be of limited use for teaching word processing, it is quite inappropriate for teaching computer science. Microsoft software is also funded by royalty-based business models which extract considerable amounts of money from provincial budgets, while FLOSS allows the educational sector to collaborate with all sectors to create software that is then distributed at a marginal cost of zero.

I would like to be told what policy this school was using to justify dismantling this lab and harassing this teacher. Does the Toronto District School Board has an exclusive agreement with Microsoft? Does the Ontario ministry of education have an exclusive agreement?

Please provide me details. I am an Ontario citizen who works and volunteers with FLOSS software. I believe that the future of education is tied to the move away from royalty-based methods of funding the development of knowledge. Knowledge has a marginal cost to the producer of zero, and with new communications technology it is possible to harness this trait of knowledge and allow the marginal cost to the customer to also be zero. FLOSS and Open Access initiatives allowing the educational sector to collaboratively work with other sectors to develop knowledge using methods that will not only reduce costs on the educational community, but will also free that knowledge for the benefit of all humanity.

Russell McOrmond

(Full contact information was provided -- Please ensure that any letters you send to elected representatives contain your full contact information!)

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Why was he told this?

There must have been a reason given for discontinuing the use of Linux in his lab. Do you know the 'official' reason? The school systems in this country all have curricula, is the use of particular software specified in the curriculum? Or, is he given leeway to teach using a variety of tools?

In research mode!

We are all in research mode at the moment, trying to find the details. I copied the above letter to my Trustee in Ottawa, and they have forwarded this on to staff.

It may be a political issue internal to that specific school, or it may be something within the Toronto School Board or province-wide.

Writing letters to elected representatives is never a bad thing, IMHO. Even if it turns out to be an issue with the specific school, that teacher will be able to use the information we gather from the boards and the province in their quest to provide better education to students.

As to curriculum: If it turns out that knowing where to click on a specific version of the Microsoft user interface is part of the curriculum in Ontario, then this will be useful to know as we try to get this corrected. Having specific standard languages (Such as the ECMA standardized C# language) be part of the curriculum is appropriate, but mandating specific brands of software and disallowing students from learning in an environment where source code is available is not.

When I was a student I learned as all students do: studying and building upon existing morks. Unfortunately back in the early-mid 1980's it required that I infringe copyright in order to properly learn to program the computers I had access to. This is no longer the case given pretty much every piece of hardware available to students is capable of running FLOSS where it is legal to study and modify.

Free/Libre and Open Source Software (FLOSS) consultant.

Typo: Ontario Board of Education

Note: There is no such thing as an "Ontario Board of Education". The province of Ontario has a Ministry of Education (with a Minister who is an elected MPP), and then there are School Boards under that which are city/regional such as the Toronto District School Board, which then administer some central things for all schools in that region.. School boards have elected trustees.

Free/Libre and Open Source Software (FLOSS) consultant.

Feedback from Australia

I received an email about the following article and paper from the author.

The real roadblocks to Linux in education, By Con Zymaris, Special to ZDNet

And that problem has nothing to do with the value-for-money or fitness--for-purpose of the software. It has everything to do with fighting an uphill battle against entrenched ideology and frightened government bureaucrats.

Reducing Computer technology costs in Australian State Education (PDF)

Con Zymaris

- CEO, Cybersource Pty. Ltd.
- Director, Open Source Industry Australia, Limited.
- Convenor, Open Source Victoria (A Government-funded industry cluster.)

what is the name of the school?

I am curious. I'd like to know if I ever see a resume in the future if they are from the Linux-enhanced curriculum, or the Linux-deprived era.

Followup article.

See the follow-up article with the Interview with Mr. Montgomery about dismantled Linux lab.

You may want to write a letter to the principal and trustee for Monarch Park CI and explain that the different labs would affect how you as an employer would evaluate those students. If you do so, please publish the letter as an open letter.

I received a great reply from Laura McAlister, Superintendent of Curriculum, Ottawa-Carleton District School Board, which I hope to get permission to publish.

She also pointed me to the Ontario Software Acquisition Program Advisory Committee, and I have sent this committee an introduction letter.

Free/Libre and Open Source Software (FLOSS) consultant.