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Free software in education and free software education

by Miriam Bastian Contributions Published on Dec 26, 2023 03:58 PM
Program manager Miriam Bastian shares about, among other things, a recent visit where she and outreach & communications coordinator Devin Ulibarri gave a talk on free software at Everett High School.

Free software is vital for education, and free software education is vital for a free society. For this reason, my colleague Devin Ulibarri and I visited Everett High School (EHS) last week and talked with approximately sixty cybersecurity and robotics students about free software. It was thrilling to meet all these students and to learn what interests them. The teens asked us questions like "Is it safe to use free software?" "What are examples of GNU software that is widely used?" and "How can a high school student or someone who is just starting college get involved with free software projects?" A special thanks goes to cybersecurity teacher Neil Plotnick for the opportunity to present to his students, and we would like to extend a special thanks to all the teachers out there who educate their students about, or by using, free software.

We want to encourage you to go down to schools in your area and teach them how to use free software and why it's important, so we put all the teaching materials we created for the EHS classroom visit onto the LibrePlanet wiki so that you may download and use them for your own lesson or presentation on free software. No matter if you are a teacher looking for materials for your classroom, a student planning on showing fellow students what free software is all about, or a free software activist going on a classroom visit, you might find these materials useful. Additionally, you are most welcome to add any presentations, lesson plans, or handouts about free software you create yourself! We also set up a page for teaching volunteers, where you can add yourself if you are interested in teaching others about free software.

During this year's fall campaign we're focusing on free software, education, and how each one benefits from the other. There are basically two dimensions to this: free software in education and free software education. Both are imperative for a free society.

The FSF has a long history of advocating for freedom in the classroom

"Schools will be able to provide a much more educational environment by encouraging all students to study and improve the system code."

This is a quote from the first ever Free Software Bulletin, written in 1986. We can only learn in freedom if the software we use is free. And young people will only develop and advocate for free software if we teach them now to understand that proprietary software, though omnipresent, is not the path to a free future. This is why the FSF has advocated for free software in education from the start, and has always continued to do so.

In 2020, during the beginning of the pandemic, the FSF alerted the public to the dangers of proprietary software in the classroom, wrote about free software for remote education, and launched a petition for freedom in the classroom. This petition has been signed by 1,633 people so far. We contacted hundreds of educational institutions on behalf of the signers and invited them into a discussion on how to truly educate the next generation of technologically literate citizens, rather than serve as marketing and influence arms for proprietary software companies. Nonfree programs like Google Classroom, Microsoft Teams, and Zoom do not only invite a malicious third party into the educational environment. More importantly, they increase society's dependence on proprietary software, software that denies its users their freedom. If you haven't signed the petition yet, you can do still so now.

We didn't stop there. In the spring of 2022, we published our biannual Bulletin with an article on the need for free software education as well as an article examining how to overcome the hurdle of "industry standard" in education technology. And finally, LibrePlanet 2023 featured a keynote on education and the future of software freedom, and we always try to include as many free software in education sessions as possible in the schedule of the annual LibrePlanet conference hosted by the FSF. Here's a collection of my favorite LibrePlanet talks in this realm:

Free software education is ingrained in the FSF's mission

The FSF's mission is to promote computer user freedom worldwide. A huge percentage of the FSF's advocacy consists of free software education. Not only are our campaigns all about informing the public on topics such as software patents, putting an end to Digital Restrictions Management (DRM), or nonfree JavaScript. Our campaigns team has also released various educational videos, such as "Fight to Repair", "ShoeTool", "Escape to Freedom", "Rewind", and "User Liberation" to help you introduce to your loved ones what free software is all about.

In addition to all the work mentioned so far, we have no plans to stop. The topic of this year's International Day Against DRM (IDAD) was fighting for core educational principles, like universal access and freedom from censorship.

And because we know that one of the best ways to learn about free software, including its philosophy of freedom, is by using it, the FSF regularly hosts workshops on free software, such as Kdenlive, LeanWeb, or Newk script. Additionally, the Free Software Directory contains a collection dedicated to books and online tutorials as well as software for learning how to program. And, the FSF tech team made 133 webpages of their sysadmin documentation available to the public as well as the FSF Tech Team Bash Style Guide, which you can use to learn how to use automatic error handling while avoiding pitfalls.

As stated in the FSF's mission, "the ultimate success of the free software movement depends upon teaching our friends, neighbors, and work colleagues about the danger of not having software freedom, about the danger of a society losing control over its computing." This mission, which is now more important than ever before, depends on you.

Photo credit and copyright © 2023 Rubén Rodríguez, licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International license.

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