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Make the use of open standards in education mandatory

This entry is part 1 of 2 in the series Open standards in education - campaign

Some of you have noticed there is something buzzing among your Dutch friends. It has to do with education, Silverlight, open standards and being obese. I’ve been asked to write about it in English so you all can get on the same page as us, and sign a petition to show your support for our campaign to make the use of open standards in education mandatory.

What came first?

At first there was a problem, and the problem is called Magister. Magister is software for the school administration but it also expanding it’s reach to serve as an education learning environment and a license-tool for educational materials. When a school deploys Magister students are required to go online and use Magister via their browser. For them the tool is web-based. Till 2008 there where no issues, but in 2008 Schoolmaster, the company behind Magister, partnered with Microsoft and Siverlight was chosen as the tool of choice. Since Magister 5.x problems have been mounting for students using other browsers than Internet Explorer or another operating system than Windows. Microsoft and Schoolmaster state that Magister is truly multiplatform because Silverlight is available for Windows, Mac OS X and Linux. Well, as most Linux fans and users know, there is an open source implementation for Silverlight. It’s called Moonlight and to call it a crappy implementation would be giving it too much credit. Students using Moonlight can’t get Silverlight to work.

And then what?

To be honest, I was at home being ill, feeling like Moonlight and ran across yet another discussion about “I can not get Magister to work and the school tells me to buy a decent operating system, Windows”. As long as my brain works and my laptop is at hand I can do something and this time I wrote a column about it, comparing the situation in Dutch education with Jamie Oliver’s attempts to get the notion of healthy food into the thick skulls of school administrators, parents and students. I wrote about the Microsoft monoculture (no pun intended) in the Dutch educational system that is reinforced by offering teachers and students a limited set of proprietary software at extremely reduced prices, say 90 to 100% price cuts. I wrote about how this reduces the educational systems to a heavily subsidised training system for Microsoft software, Adobe software and Autocad. With the rest of society paying the price for decades to come with a work force that only has an extremely limited IT-skillset, is highly inflexible when it comes to migrating to other applications (incurring high re-training costst) and with companies and governments paying billions each year in license costs for named software. Pretty neat if you are working for one of the companies that sells this software, don’t you think? And Magister was adding to the mix by enforcing the use of Silverlight. In my opinion this should stop, right now!

Jackpot!

Well, this was a blogger’s jackpot, because it resulted in a heated debate and a lot of tweets. There was you Microsoft award winner that thought it was ridiculous to have something like platform-independent access for everyone and that is was perfectly fine to leave 10% of your user-base out in the cold, and another developer that stated that for a project in the public sector is was considered acceptable for 5% of the users to not be able to the organisation’s website for the coming four years. So, they considered it acceptable that 5-10% of the user-based of public organisation have no acces to services or information, even if the use of those services or information is mandatory.

These numbers would be considered unacceptable when applied to physical locations of government buildings and schools and are just as unacceptable when it comes to the virtual locations of those same institutions. In my opinion all publicly funded institutions should be 100% accessible by everyone, regardless their use of whatever technology. Platform-independent access should be the norm and the use of open standards and open technology the means to achieve this. Silverlight doesn’t meet those requirements.

On to Parliament

Still being ill and feeling like Moonlight I decided to take the next step: write an open letter to Parliament. This letter analysed the key problems in Dutch education when it comes to (educational) software and emphasised that the Dutch government has an “open standards are mandatory, unless…” in place for the entire public sector, including education, since the end of 2007. I called upon Parliament to pass a motion on the following four points:

1. to strengthen the Dutch action plan Netherlands Open in Connection by making the use of open standards truly mandatory for all publicly-funded institutions, in harmony with the comply-or-explain principle;

2. to make platform-independent access to all online services and information mandatory for all publicly-funded institutions, in this case, educational institutions;

3. to put an end to teaching limited productspecific skill-sets by educational institutions; and

4. to put an end to the practice of selling software to teachers, parents and students (via a limited numbers of educational resellers) against prices that are extremely below current market prices.

The first two points are meant to allow the use of all online educational environments regardless of the computertechnology you want to use. The last two points aim at laying the groundwork for a more rounded-out ICT-education in Dutch schools and creating a more open and transparent market for educational software.

Unto the barricades

Well, then there were quite a few people that wanted to express their support for that letter, which resulted in a petition that is still on-going. What does the petition say?

We, teachers, parents and students that promote and support the use of innovative and open IT

Considering that:

- 5 to 10% of students are forced to install and use Microsoft-technology by ill-conceived and unnecessary investments in electronic learning environments and online schooladministrations;
- the use of open standards has been mandatory for the public sector since 2007; and
- educational institutions so far have failed to comply with this mandatory use of open standards.

Notice,

- that our educational system has become a subsidised system for training and sustaining limited productspecific skillsets, proliferating the near-monopoly of Microsoft-technology;
- that companies and organisations have to pay the price for this for decades to come, in terms of high license costs, an inflexible labourforce and loss of innovative power.

Request the Secretary of Education and Parliament,

to put an end to the dumping practices of proprietary software companies  in education, to make mandatory the training of broader productindependent skillsets and to put an end to enforced purchase of proprietary software by requiring the use of open standards. More specifically we ask for:

1. to strengthen the Dutch action plan Netherlands Open in Connection by making the use of open standards truly mandatory for all publicly-funded institutions, in harmony with the comply-or-explain principle;

2. to make platform-independent access to all online services and information mandatory for all publicly-funded institutions, in this case, educational institutions;

3. to put an end to teaching limited productspecific skill-sets by educational institutions; and

4. to put an end to the practice of selling software to teachers, parents and students (via a limited numbers of educational resellers) against prices that are extremely below current market prices.

And, is it working?

I would assume it is. So far we have 200+ people who have signed the petition and various parents and students go to work in mobilizing others. The petition isn’t the end of the campaign. The next step is gather a list of bad practices and best practices, combined with a list of enterprise-ready open alternatives, or better, education-ready open alternatives, and to offer this, combined with the petition to the Secretary of Education and Parliament. And to keep pushing untill we have achieved our goals of mandatory use of open standards and complete platform-independent access.

Great! I want to express my support

I love you! Really I do, so that is why there is a separate petition for our international supporters. Please fill in the requested information below, click on the big orange button and confirm your signature once you get the e-mail.

[emailpetition id="2"]

I am with the press, I want you on prime-time television

Or you might want to write an article about it. Feel fee to contact me via e-mail (janstedehouder AT gmail DOT com). From there on we can make further arrangements. And, of course, thank you for your interest in our campaign.

Yes, we are supporting the Dutch campaign to make the use of open standards mandatory in education

[signaturelist id="2"]

Series NavigationOpen standards in education – campaign update

11 comments to Make the use of open standards in education mandatory

Fragmenten

"Fragmenten" is mijn persoonlijke website, de plek waar ik schrijf over de projecten en thema's waar ik bij betrokken ben, de boeken waar ik aan werk. In mijn leven probeer ik vast te houden aan wat in Psalmen 34:12 staat: "Wie is de man die lust heeft in het leven, die genoeg dagen liefheeft om het goede te zien?". Of het nu gaat om open ICT, digitale geletterdheid, interculturalisatie, of geloof en spiritualiteit, ik wil er mee bezig zijn om het goede te zien. Dat vereist soms, vaak wellicht, een scherp doordringen tot de kern van de zaak, een kritische beschouwing, het wegblazen van stof en slingers.