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.
Time has come to make things go the other way around and make good education influence the world of ICT. This because, while the teaching of ICT has been incorporated at the school-level and ICT itself is being used in the classroom and outside for teaching and learning more effectively, access to ICT is not universal due to various reasons, generally falling under "digital exclusion".
Digital exclusion (the exclusion of large masses of human beings from the benefits of ICT) is an effect of the current economical system, but has many concurrent causes:
- the lack or poor quality of education in the field of IT in both "developed" as well as "developing" countries. There is lot of ICT technical training, in particular there is strong pression and funding from big US charities, for proprietary software solutions. What is lacking is general-purpose and senseful education on IT
- the lack of bandwith or even Internet connectivity in many areas of the world, in particular in developing and emerging economies, but also in many rural areas of developed countries, with an "horizontal" effect typical of most outcomes of globalization (dividing human beings in classes that are transversal to countries, and coupled by income)
- the cost of hardware which, even if declining, is still a barrier for many people
- the obscurity and the high cost of proprietary software stopping 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.
- the lack of translation of software and education resources in languages other than English, excluding all people in the world that do not receive the needed education in languages other then their local ones.
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 such solutions treat students as consumers. The Free software community (sometimes called free and open source software community) on the other hand produced the GNU/Linux operating system and a comprehensive stack of collaborative workspaces that enabled students to really learn ICT 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 without "legal fences".
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, for small the community may be. This is normally not possible with proprietary software because some communities are too small to satisfy the commercial interests of the company, plus because the main interest of globalized corporation is to "standardize" software solutions as well as human beings.
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 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. Furthermore, teachers using participatory pedagogies can use free software to nurture the much needed creativity and encourage students to critically think and reason with their minds, instead of becoming consumers of software "products" packaged by corporations, together with their "consumer ideology".
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 be released with a license (such as Creative Commons Attribution 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 from all corners of the world to start fostering digital inclusion by:
- discarding all proprietary software in favor of the exclusive use of Free Software
- sharing knowledge at all levels with their friends and colleagues
- teaching everybody that education and freedom to participate at all levels are basic needs and rights of all human beings
- asking the State for quality education in ICT and beyond