SA department of education shuts out FOSS

By   |  May 12, 2009

Despite a national open source strategy and a well-publicised set of minimum interoperability standards for government, the South African education department has launched a teacher laptop project that excludes free and open source software (FOSS).

The Teacher Laptop Initiative, which was launched by the outgoing education minister Naledi Pandor last week, will grant teachers a monthly allowance to purchase and maintain a laptop that meets minimum specifications set out by the education department. The specifications laid out by the department, however, specify that qualifying laptop computers must run “Windows XP or higher”, include Microsoft Office as well as use Windows Live. The approved specifications also include a range of Microsoft applications including Microsoft Digital Literacy and Microsoft Partners In Learning.

The department does not specify any open source alternatives to the Microsoft software for the initiative.

National strategy
The decision by the department of education to specify proprietary Microsoft software as the minimum requirement for the purchase of laptops by teachers runs contrary to the South African national strategy of open standards and open source software. The government-backed Minimum Interoperability Standards (MIOS) for information systems in government, for example, specifies a set of standards for information sharing within government departments as well as between government and citizens, which specifies formats such as text, OpenDocument Format, XHTML and CSV for document sharing but does not include Microsoft’s Word format.

The exclusion of open source software by the education department also runs contrary to the “Policy on Free and Open Source Software use for South African Government” which was approved by the Cabinet in February 2007.

The allowance that will be granted to teachers to purchase the laptops will be R130 a month and the department estimates that teachers will have to pay in an additional R60 to cover the costs of the laptops, including insurance, over a 60-month period. The department says that the software, which is primarily Microsoft software, will be provided to teachers at a discounted price of R350.

In the government reshuffle announced on Sunday, the education department was split into two and Pandor was replaced by Blade Nzimande as minister for higher education and Angie Moshekga as minister of basic education.

Comments

27 Responses to “SA department of education shuts out FOSS”

  1. kmf
    May 12th, 2009 @ 9:47 am

    R6000 for connectivity … with the dialup modem

  2. Jonathan Carter
    May 12th, 2009 @ 10:10 am

    Our government is just as full as hot air as any other government, I don’t know why anyone still bothers taking them seriously when they say anything. They don’t care about poor people, “the struggle is over as long as I’m getting shitloads of money, right?”. They are a bunch of self-serving hypocrites.

  3. jpj
    May 12th, 2009 @ 10:35 am

    Illegal tenders are a common, and growing, problem in spite of being recognized:

    http://www.osor.eu/news/many-software-tenders-in-eu-illegal

    I would not be surprised to find that South Africa, too, is a signatory of the following International Treaties, both of which are being violated in requiring MS products:

    “The plurilateral Agreement on Government Procurement (GPA)”
    http://www.wto.org/english/tratop_e/gproc_e/gp_gpa_e.htm

    “The WTO Agreement on Technical Barriers to Trade”
    http://www.wto.org/english/tratop_e/tbt_e/tbt_e.htm

    Although entirely illegal and unethical in and of itself, the software is only a red herring. Use of Open Standards is the real issue that Steve and Bill crap themselves to avoid:

    “Hidden cost of proprietary standards may lead to illegal tenders”
    http://www.osor.eu/news/hidden-cost-of-proprietary-standards-may-lead-to-illegal-tenders

    It will be difficult to get the details needed to correct the problem, because if this deal is like others, MS will whinge and cry and call the details of the deal a ‘trade secret’. Also, those on the other end of the graft will have their own reasons to hide the details.

  4. Dwayne Bailey
    May 12th, 2009 @ 10:45 am

    It does say Windows XP or higher so I guess that means you can run Ubuntu or Mac OS X as they’re both much higher then XP. Having been released this side of the naughties (’00) instead of at the turn of the century both Linux and Mac OS are up-to-date with modern technology rather then being an OS saved from EOL by changing markets.

  5. Frank Schulte-Ladbeck
    May 12th, 2009 @ 11:45 am

    Have they stated why they did this? and next question How will this effect teachers in poorer areas? I use the odt format for my business documents, and I convert them to pdf when sending to clients, because I do not know which MS format they are using. This has worked out fine. I have no big gripe against MS, but it does seem that the teachers would be better served with the capabilities of OpenOffice and other programs which would allow them to focus resources elsewhere.

  6. richard
    May 12th, 2009 @ 12:12 pm

    This is simply outragous. Has the dept attempted to even justify this!?

  7. David Robert Lewis
    May 12th, 2009 @ 1:32 pm

    Amazing, so Blade Nzmande has turned into a capitalist overnight and is promoting Microsoft? Wonder how much he got paid? Bill and Melinda Gates must be chuffed. This is really an example of champagne revolutionaries losing any sense of proportion, what will the masses think when they realise Ubuntu is the best OS in the entire world? Choosing Microsoft? Cde Nzmande, how unpatriotic of you.

  8. David Robert Lewis
    May 12th, 2009 @ 1:39 pm

    Please see my comments on Ubuntu Changing the Mode of Production at http://indlovu.wordpress.com/2009/05/09/ubuntu-changing-the-mode-of-production/

  9. Steve Vosloo
    May 12th, 2009 @ 3:43 pm

    If Dept of Edu didn’t insist on Microsoft software they could save R105m! (300,000 teacher laptops x R350 for MS software). The R105m could be used to provide support for Ubuntu and Open Office.

  10. Hilton Theunissen
    May 12th, 2009 @ 10:36 pm

    Friends I am going to engage a few people and get some answers. We work with just over 100 tuXlab schools with just over 2000 educators, what if they prefer Ubuntu? 2000x R300 = R600 000 That is enough for a free helpdesk with 5 staff, operational cost, their scope of work can be extended to free e-mail and telephonic support to schools, they can build up mini howto’s, faq’s,etc.

  11. Tony
    May 13th, 2009 @ 3:07 am

    So, the teachers are going to learn about Microsoft products.
    What will happen if the student insist on using Linux software.
    Will the teacher adapt or will the student be thrown out of class

  12. paul -theunverified
    May 13th, 2009 @ 5:47 am

    The SA Dept of Education should provide a clear, detailed explanation as to why the decision was made. If they felt it was justified on cost or technological advantage, then they should explain themselves. I’d encourage you all to try to make this happen. They owe it to you since they’re spending your money and they’re making decisions that will impact the educational quality of your children.

    My suspicions are that the Gates Foundation is behind this. I speculate (and that is all it is, speculation) that they’ve established an agreement of some type that ties in with their campaign to wipe out certain diseases.

    I’m located in the US. I just saw Bill and his Dad on Charlie Rose about two weeks ago. Bill was very excited about his project to improve education and about the Gates’ Foundation’s efforts to wipe out malaria and other diseases.

    This is very disappointing to me. I felt so sure that SA was going to become one of the best examples of what Linux and open source software can do to improve education and provide opportunity for more people. I’m so sorry to see this happen.

  13. evanx
    May 13th, 2009 @ 9:34 am

    WindowsXP and windows7 laptops are fair enough (especially if they have cut a deep educational discount with MS – by “threatening” to otherwise go Linux route) but then at least mandate OpenOffice, Firefox and VLC – because opensource software is not just about the OS, but about apps, which are arguably more important as they closer to the user, and make later transition to Linux an easy exercise.

  14. William
    May 13th, 2009 @ 10:08 am

    People must realize that the students are not the problem, put Ubuntu, Fedora in front of them, and they will explore and find out how things work, much faster than the Teachers/Educators can do with documentation.

    The problem is with the Education Dept and the Teachers/Educators.

    The funny part is that they are teaching students/learners something new ( School subjects ) to the students/learners, yet they would prefer to spend lots of money to not learn something new.

    Basically, the Education Dept and the Teachers/Educators need to be “educated”.

    Please Hilton, give us feed back on your finding

  15. Christopher Brunsdon
    May 13th, 2009 @ 3:28 pm

    Last year I was forced to do the ICDL at UNISA, no option of doing the OCDL – my preference. This is the most expensive model available at UNISA and even though I was given XP and Access for free it would have cost me nearly R3K with exams (used the trial version of Office instead).

    New students no longer get the free OS.

    So this news from the ED does not surprise me, and it will surprise me even less when they make ICDL a requirement at the teachers and/or taxpayers cost.

    I don’t object to education, I just object to not having a choice.

  16. Drummer
    May 13th, 2009 @ 7:39 pm

    “Windows XP or higher” – That would mean just about any of the three most popular distributions of Linux – Ubuntu, Red Hat, or OpenSuse. Right?

    But seriously, if the students are using Linux and Open Source Software, then the “teachers’” computers will have to be dual-boot or run virtual machines. Otherwise, how will they be able to intelligently discuss issues that might crop up?

    My guess is that Microsoft came in like gangbusters, wined, dined, paid-off and/or threatened those who make these decisions. And like most IT heads, they went along with it.

    I also love the “Microsoft Digital Literacy” and “Microsoft Partners In Learning” parts. As anyone in the electronics industry can tell you, when Microsoft “partners” with you, it’s like “partnering” with the guy named “Bubba” in jail. Don’t even get me started on the “literacy” idea!

    But maybe that’s MY experience.

  17. Collin Motsewakhumo
    May 13th, 2009 @ 11:01 pm

    I use linux everyday, having started with Gentoo 2005.0 and now currently running Ubuntu 8.10. As a teacher I have had learners coming to me with varied problems of their home computers infected with viruses, asking if i had the latest anti virus.
    My answer to them: Windows is a virus itself, so do yourselves a favour; get a linux OS and save yourselves a whole lot of headaches.
    The linux learning curve serves as a reminder that learning is fun if you discover it yourselves rather having it delivered to you on a silver platter.

    Cde Blade Nzimande should be advised to rethink his stance,of which I doubt he will. I for one do not blame him for not knowing any better, Bantu education & Mr. Gates are to me synonymous:- The damage caused is irreversible.

  18. William
    May 14th, 2009 @ 3:57 pm

    Hi Collin Motsewakhumo,

    How about doing an article on Tectonic about your experiences as a Teacher/Educator that uses FLOSS.

    And if you know of any other Teachers using FLOSS, encourage them to do the same.

    Also join http://schoolforge.org.za

    Go to the site to find out what it is about

    If you have any teaching material that you don’t mind sharing, please do so at schoolforge.org.za

  19. paul -theunverified
    May 14th, 2009 @ 4:38 pm

    I wish Hilton success in the investigation even if it confirms a well-thought out process (which I’ll find hard to believe). A radical change in attitude like this is always reason for suspicion and hence requires a thorough understanding of all the influences that have contributed to the result.

    Evanx makes an excellent and extremely valid point re the use of open source software on a proprietary platform. I recommend that be pursued now with the requirement that the people making these decisions provide real, detailed evidence to substantiate their choices. By “real” I mean you can’t use the excuse “because everybody uses it” or “because it doesn’t work with Microsoft’s products.” There must be specific examples of any deficiency that is claimed so there is opportunity to refute that claim.

    I’m still suspicious of the Gates’ Foundations efforts. Melinda might be sincerely philanthropic in her efforts, but Bill has shown many times just how amoral* he can be. It isn’t hard to imagine how he could take something of a humanitarian nature and use it as a lever to further Microsoft’s domination. And it’s a perfect lever to use.

    Note that the foundations’ efforts are in several areas of disease, not just malaria which is the one that I cited.

    If I may, here are the links to the Charlie Rose show that I mentioned as well.

    http://www.charlierose.com/view/interview/10257 (This is the whole show which is 54 minutes long entitled “A conversation with William Gates Sr. and Bill Gates Jr.”)

    http://www.charlierose.com/view/clip/10268 (These are the highlights which is 8 minutes long. “Daily Highlights Tuesday April 28, 2009”)

    *adjective == without moral sense or principles; incapable of distinguishing between right and wrong

  20. Sudhashen Naicker
    May 14th, 2009 @ 10:19 pm

    I think one way is to take time to introduce FOSS to your community and as many youth you can find. I am involved with a group of street kids and I tell you it is incredible how good they are at picking up what linux is about and what it can do for them. Kids are surprisingly adept at figuring out how things work and it gives me great pleasure to see them work on the system. Eventually this will trickle down to teacher level, when this future generation demands linux in their labs, introduce to their friends and use it at work. Its a start.

  21. Kyle
    May 15th, 2009 @ 3:49 pm

    Does anyone remember the arms deal and all the kickbacks?

    Well, why not do the same with software. You cannot get kickbacks from almost free software.

    I wonder how much kickback M$ gave this new minister…..

  22. School 2.0 Bookmarks (weekly) | School 2.0 in SA
    May 17th, 2009 @ 2:53 am

    […] South African department of education shuts out FOSS […]

  23. chukaman
    May 17th, 2009 @ 8:08 pm

    @Sudhashen Naicker: I guess what you say makes the whole situation even more sad. If it wasn’t for people like you then where would these kids be seeing what OSS has to offer them?

    Dwayne, you’re a hose with those XP or higher comments, lol :)

  24. Ubuntu Warrior
    May 18th, 2009 @ 12:35 am

    So sad to see this happen in a country that could benefit enormously from the FOSS options like Linux, Apache and Open Office. We run a successful, lean, highly profitable company on open source software so don’t see why this option should not be open to schools in SA.

    Great quote from Mike Kovacevich “Linux takes wisdom, foresight and guts”.

  25. Kodachrome Maybellene
    May 18th, 2009 @ 9:17 am

    Teacher laptop innative…

    SA department of education shuts out FOSSDespite a national open source strategy and a well-publicised set of minimum interoperability standards for government, the South African education department has launched a teacher laptop project that excludes …

  26. paul -theunverified
    May 18th, 2009 @ 3:04 pm

    Just recently there was a BBC article that included all the usual Microsoft spin selling.

    http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/technology/8047514.stm

    In the article, a Dr Diarra is quoted.

    “For Dr Diarra, one problem alone defines Africa’s situation.

    ‘Technology wise, African needs can be summarised in one word: access,’ he said.

    ‘When you talk about access, you talk about affordability of hardware, software and connectivity, which is 50 to 100 times more expensive in Africa than in the US,’ said Dr Diarra.”

    This suggests to me that Microsoft might be offering access as part of the “deal.”

  27. lamapper
    May 22nd, 2009 @ 11:26 am

    You do not have to go overseas, just turn on CSPAN and listen to any panel addressing our elected representatives on internet security, purchasing of computer hardware and/or software. Listen and search for procurement, controlling via procurement, Microsoft and you will find a very active push to limit or NOT allow FOSS solutions.

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