Friday, August 28, 2009

Microsoft to take over Maharashtra's education future - Part 2

Subject: Regarding Maharashtra government's decision to provide training to school teachers in collaboration with Microsoft.

In a shocking news we came to know that the Maharashtra Government has decided to collaborate with Microsoft to train its school teachers. Under this MoU, Microsoft Corporation India Private Limited will setup three IT academies and train government school teachers on ICTs. The Microsoft will be training the teachers for using technology in their teaching. It essentially means that Microsoft will be training teachers how to use its own products. This training will make teachers to prefer Microsoft products next time, even if other alternatives become available due to prior exposure. Such trainings done by only one vendor are against principle of diversity for pedagogical development. We believe that curriculum design is the responsibility of the Government. So if such trainings are given, Microsoft products will be installed preferably on all school computers. In future license purchases of proprietary software by Government for schools’ ICT purpose will incur Government spending of hundreds of crores. One such estimate by Gurumurthy K, director, IT for Change, is 238 crores. Individual spending, if no "piracy" is done then it will be in hundreds of crores. Such spending will benefit only Microsoft. Besides this under this program government funds are being used (teachers TA, DA etc is paid by the Government) to promote the proprietary technology of a private company.

It is also said that the program aims at improving "employability" of 11th and 12th standard students. In recession times where already graduated engineers are finding hard to find the jobs and retain current one, such employability talks are nothing more than joke. If at all such students will be employed then they will be employed at nothing more than computer operator level. Another part of this program is Live@Edu, which gives single user login to Microsoft offerings. Such offering lure but ultimately promotes usage of Microsoft products.

If government is serious about providing ICT education it should adopt technology viz. training program rather company viz. program. This means that students should be taught about basics of document editing tools, and not Microsoft Word. This is because OpenOffice Writer and other such software can do same and probably better than MS Office as well. So it is content and technology that is more important, rather than the vendor. Also all this is happening when today "Free" (in sense of freedom) software are available for almost all usage, teaching and training needs. GNU Linux and GNU utilities are available which are free of cost as well. These “free” software can be freely copied, modified and redistributed. Thus these software promote the FOSS eco-system, which has enormous benefits to society at large.

The Government of Venezuela has by law mandated the use of “Free” software for government and educational purposes. Government of Kerala, Gujarat, Karnataka have also adopted and promoted FOSS in their schools. By such initiatives, these governments are saving crores of public money, like the Kerala government saved Rs. 50 crores and made teachers ICT literate. If government does invest for one time only in developing training module for such Free software, then people (tax payer and individual) will save thousands of crores collectively. This will also help develop indigenous technocrats, as the source and design would be available to each and every one involved. Whereas with Microsoft, we are reduced to a mere passive consumer, and never the developer of "state-of-the-art" technology.

So we demand that government should scrap this MoU with Microsoft. The government should provide training and technology to teachers and students so that it makes them independent and capable of using and developing software.

Rishikesh Y
For Lokayat Free Knowledge Initiative

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