Thursday, May 01, 2008

FOSS in Schools in India

Just wanted to highlight the Kerela story here that has also made it to the latest Spotlight - Kerala Blazing the Trail for FOSS in Schools. I posted the story on a google group of people deliberating ICT in Education in India, and received some comments on the story from Anivar Aravind who is an information architect, in addition to being a self-proclaimed "hactivist, campaigner, FLOSSopher, initiator, and occasional writer", who also happens to know the inside story of the Kerela FOSS movement. I have embedded his comments (in quotes and in green) in the story just as he shared them in the googlegroup. Thanks, Anivar, for sharing your insights....
KOCHI, MARCH 4: Richard M Stallman—global free software guru, VS
Achuthanandan’s darling and almost a freewheeling adviser of sorts to
the Kerala Government—may now have more reasons to break out into
that jig that he abruptly did while being given a somberly
reverential welcome in Kerala a few weeks ago.

Kerala is all set to become the first state in the country to
completely banish Microsoft and allow only GNU/Linux free software to
be used in the mandatory IT test at the state SSLC examinations that
half a million students will appear for from next week. Till last
year, they could take the exam using either free software or the
Microsoft platform. Not anymore.

"Kerala selected free software because in the syllabus committee meeting
85% of the teachers opted for it (after 2 year experience of on the
platform & trainings and support by free software advocates - no state
help at till that point) But Because of it was a Anti-MNC position and
left-ruled Govt Media used all juicy stuff. Govt also captured the
mileage from it."

A few weeks ago, the Government formally ordered that only free Linux-
based software should be used for IT education in high schools, using
new the Linux text books developed by State Council for Educational
Research and Training and the Free Software Foundation of India.

"It was an old decision, on the starting of the academic year. Not few
weeks ago. This report was appeared just before RMS's visit to Cochin,
on March, end of the academic year "

The hardline Left’s familiar anti-MNC, anti-proprietory planks apart,
another major plus of abandoning Microsoft, claim state IT Mission
officials, is plainly the cost factor. “Going for a massive Windows-
based infrastructure cost a lot. Linux can bundle all applications
with the operating system facilitating a single installation kit”.

"Some official IT Mission has nothing to do with IT@School which is under
Education department. Kerala's IT policy clearly states the logical
reasons for Free software adoption of Kerala. And I think this Official
never gone through the content in text books"

The logistics for making Kerala the country’s Free and Open Source
Software (FOSS) destination—one of Achuthanandan’s pet Red obsessions—
may be daunting, but the state is coping with it. Since last
September, some 15 lakh students have been busy training on or
migrating to free software on 40,000 computers put up in 2,832 high
schools watched over by over 60,000 IT trained school teachers (some
86 private training institutions train the teachers) besides 161
master trainers and 5,600 school IT coordinators. “We checked. It’s
the world’s biggest mobilisation of its kind,” says K Anwar Sadath,
executive director of the state government’s IT@Schools mission.

Every high school in Kerala, including the over a thousand government-
run ones, will be wired to high-speed broadband Internet by this
July, which will be another first in India. All, of course, will use
nothing but free software. “We are now moving from IT education to IT-
enabled education in our schools, using only free software,” asserts
Education Minister M A Baby.

When Stallman, who fathered the GNU project and developed text editor
Emacs, flew down to Kerala for the first time in 2001—in his old
patched jeans, long beard, free flowing hair and crumpled T-shirt—and
told the curious who hadn’t heard of him in Thiruvananthapuram that
he was, really, “Saint iGNUcious of the church of Emacs”, the then
Congress-led Government was already busy getting the state’s IT drive
on keel, drawing in Intel and Microsoft. Achuthanandan, then
Opposition leader, was quick to demand that both be got rid of, and
launched a particularly vocal campaign against Microsoft being
allowed to train Kerala school kids, calling it “exploitative”.

The then A K Antony Government had not overly warmed up to Stallman,
who opened Asia’s first centre of his outfit, the Free Software
Foundation-India, in Thiruvananthapuram. But Achuthanandan was keen,
even when CPI(M) state secretary Pinarayi Vijayan originally favoured
the Microsoft idea. Stallman then began regularly dropping down to
Kerala. Two years ago, Achuthanandan, after vainly ordering Pepsi and
Coca-Cola out of the state, declared that all schools will go the
FOSS way.

Last year, in its state IT policy, the Left Government vowed to use
only FOSS in all e-governance projects and declared it would even
incentivise companies developing free software. Government
departments, beginning with the state Secretariat, soon began
switching from Microsoft to Linux. “There were some initial fears and
some understandable resistance, but things have been smoothing out
faster than we thought.” says a a senior state IT official. The
migration is at various stages in key Government arms now.

First of all Kerala had a silent adoption history of Free software
solutions. I did a study&documentation on successful free software
project on public Enterprises for SPACE-KERALA in 2005. An Interesting
result we found is more than 95% of successful projects in all
e-governance are using Free Software solutions. (book is available at IT policy is a result
of various civil society movements , adoption histories, their success ,
and awareness on bureaucratic & Politicians level. We welcome such good
initiatives from state. I mentioned it to point the errors in juicy
reporting "

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