A word from the wise

7th September 2001 at 01:00
Educational ICT pundits are talking about the"Disappearing Internet". Once the novelty has worn off and the technology tamed, we are told that people won't know or care where their information comes from. The teacher using a maths program with students on a whiteboard, for example, won't care whether it originated from a CD-Rom, the Internet or a satellite content delivery. Quite right too. Our annual trawl of new software, services and websites for the new academic year (pp8-15) bears this out.

Recently, however, the BBC's top bosses visited Education Secretary Estelle Morris. We can safely presume it was part of their rather arrogant lobbying to wrest lead role in the Government's ambitious plans for Curriculum Online - quality curriculum materials for schools online. The politicians and civil servants would be better off visiting people like Lewis Bronze of Espresso, and Dick Fletcher of New Media (right) than entertaining players with transparently hidden agendas. The creativity, experience and successful track records of these relatively small firms expose the dangers of the top-down approach. They also know more about schools and learning technologies than those bending the ears of the politicians. A visit to Espresso might also give them some ideas about broadband, and how to achieve it in the short-term. One thing is sure, If people like this are injured by an emerging BBC monopoly (news pp4-5), the government will have a lot to answer for.

Linux - a small word with enormous implications. A computer operating system that's part of the "Open Source" movement, it can be a robust, cost-saving alternative to some of the better-known commercial software being put into schools.

Many people using applications like Microsoft Office are blissfully unaware that Open Source software is underpinning their work, and with substantial savings. Those who only use Open Source save even more. This is because the software licences cost next to nothing and development costs are shared worldwide by the Open Source movement.

Sound like a bunch of new age techno-hippies? There's a temptation for the cynical to see it that way. Yet it is based on healthy products that are as "industry standard" as many others sold to us on the basis of that extremely misleading phrase.

So why aren't we all using Open Source? In our everyday lives we often already are, but without knowing it. In education Open Source is often the province of the pioneers, probably because the Government has been slow to provide leadership. Our own exploration of schools using Linux (pp26-27) shows that official interest is overdue. It's astonishing that a central repository of helpful, authoritative information is not yet available. Anyone who wants to advise on the latest buzz phrase, "cost of ownership", should be able to tell us about Open Source.

Merlin John, TES Online editor

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