This is a Draft Declaration
We request all those who read this page to suggest any changes before Monday 13th September 2010, so that the declaration can be released sooner than later. The draft is uploaded on the wiki page.
The Role of ICT and Education in Social Inclusion
Information & Communication Technology (ICT) is one of the most powerful technologies ever developed by humankind. It has drastically changed the way we do things, the way we communicate and even the way we think. Education is one of the spheres of human activity that is being strongly influenced by ICT. While the teaching of ICT has been incorporated at the school-level, ICT itself is being used in the classroom and outside for teaching and learning more effectively. However, access to ICT is not universal due to various reasons, including obscurity and the high cost of proprietary software.
Education is a basic requirement for a comfortable life in today’s society. In view of this, some countries, including India, have made it a fundamental right. This is certainly a move in the right direction. Education in ICT and ICT-enabled education are also becoming wide-spread. Part of the reason for this is the rapid decline in the cost of hardware. At the same time, the high cost of software is acting as a hurdle for further progress. Another factor that prevents more wide-spread use of ICT is the fact that the interface is not available in many languages, which bothers a lot of people.
Obscurity stops people and especially students to learn how things work, software in particular. The right to use, know, change and share technical knowledge about modern artefacts is an essential human right in knowledge societies.
Why is Software Freedom a necessity and not a choice?
Proprietary software does not allow community participation in shaping the ICT to be used for education, and is not suitable for education since their solutions treat students as consumers. Free software community (sometimes called free and open source software community) on the other hand produced GNU/Linux operating system and a comprehensive stack of collaborative workspaces that enable students during the last 25 years. Most of the free software workspaces are made accessible for speakers of all languages of the world, including physically challenged students. The software freedom granted to the people (1. to use the software for any purpose; 2. to study how it works; 3. to modify it and 4. to distribute the modified software) is unquestionably the core source of the free software revolution that is being witnessed. Any software that grants these four freedoms is called Free Software. These freedoms are essential for students to learn how things work, and to share their experience, knowledge and collaborate with others without legal encumbrances.
The software freedom makes it eminently suitable for any purpose, especially for education. The software used in education has to be freely available and accessible to all because education has to be universal. Moreover, the software has to be available in the language used by the community in that part of the world, however small the community may be. This is normally not possible with proprietary software because some communities could be too small to satisfy the commercial interests of the company.
But the situation is different with Free Software. Since the source code is available for study and modification by anyone, students of computer science and software engineering are able to see code written by master programmers and learn from them, just as students of literature learn from works of great writers, or students of art or cinema learn from the works of great artists and movie makers. This is obviously not possible with proprietary software.
Any community that has people with reasonable software skills can customise the interface to show the menu and other items in their own language. They can also create fonts for the language if they are not available. And they can localise applications to suit their culture and environment.
Finally, the students who have computers in their homes can use the same software they use in their educational institutions without either breaking the law and using illegal software, or spending a lot of money to buy the same software.
Thus, Free Software is undeniably the most ideal for use in all educational institutions at all levels; for primary, secondary or higher education. Proprietary software keeps people divided and helpless, while Free Software empowers them. Free software nurtures the much needed creativity by encouraging us to critical thinking and reasoning while proprietary software forces us to consume what they pack.
It is important for the graduating students to become entrepreneurs or join the various agencies for employment. Considering this requirement it is essential that the syllabus in educational institutions focuses on skills and does not include any specific branded applications. Therefore, the syllabus should be neutral and not mention any particular brand.
Just as the software requires to be free, it is essential that learning and teaching resources including documentation, books, journals, and other media should be released with a license (such as Creative Commons by Share Alike) which grants similar freedoms for other resources. All these resources must also be encoded in an open standard so that the exchanged documents are decodable in all platforms ensuring interoperability.
considering all the reasons mentioned above, we, the undersigned, call on all educational institutions, policy makers, students and teachers in all corners of the world to discard all proprietary software and use exclusively Free Software.