Democratic Alliance leader and Western Cape Premier Helen Zille, recently stated that by 2014 every school in the Western Cape will have a broadband connection. Considering that our broadband infrastructure is far behind global standards, hopefully this promise marks a turning point for South African broadband connectivity.
Internet access is major factor in a modern education but this just the opportunity we need to modernise our IT curriculum as well. I was recently investigating high schools in my area and was informed by one of the IT teachers that the curriculum requires Windows XP and Microsoft Office 2003 to be taught despite the fact that their school is in a position to upgrade.
If it’s true that the curriculum requires that students learn software that is almost ten years old, by the time they need to put those skills on a CV they’ll be completely irrelevant.
A more pressing issue for me however is that the curriculum requires proprietary software when high quality, open source alternatives exist.
South African entrepreneur Mark Shuttleworth has spent many years and huge sums of money producing the Ubuntu operating system. It’s the third most popular desktop operating system in the world and not only because it’s free, but also because it is extremely competitive and improving constantly.
I understand how prevalent Windows and MS Office are in the workplace and I’m not certainly not suggesting that they should not be taught at all, but proprietary systems should be an optional extra. A student who walks away with Ubuntu and LibreOffice skills would have little trouble adapting to the Microsoft platform.
Unlike proprietary options, Ubuntu, LibreOffice, and Mozilla Firefox fully comply with internationally recognised open standards. They are free of patent royalties, free of legal restrictions, and of course free of cost.
It’s simply unwise to condition the youth of South Africa into using restrictive software, especially when the software being taught is so outdated.
Ubuntu is built for performance and its minimum hardware requirements are significantly lower than those of Windows. Taking that into account and the fact that antivirus software is unnecessary on Ubuntu, schools could potentially be able to build a modern computer lab of about 10 to 15 Ubuntu machines for below R50,000.
Mark Suttleworth named it Ubuntu because of its open source foundations, built by a global community of dedicated engineers. A community creating technology in order for the technology to build communities.
It’s a natural fit for a modern South African youth.