Open source Campaign in Schools of Nepal

Kathmandu

In the present context of Nepal, excluding the government offices and huge financial institutions, more than 90% of the PC’s run pirated version of Microsoft Windows. Despite the persuasion and the creation of awareness, as long as the piracy continues it will always be difficult for the users to switch to Open Source alternatives such as Linux. The major reasons behind it are the cost and the vendor lock.
It must have been just a bubble of thought in someone’s mind years back, but today the open source revolution has indeed become a reality, embracing the whole globe and creating rather a phenomenon. With IT booms taking place in the neighborhood, Nepal does not come under an exception. To stand against the billows of these accelerated growths, Nepal has to produce versatile manpower adept in utilizing resources of both worlds: open source as well as its counterparts.

Though open source has been very successful in the many parts of the world, it yet remains to dig its roots in Nepal. One of the major causes of this fact seems to be the lack of awareness. Very few people in a community might have heard about the open source and its possibilities. Among them one or two may even be users. Worst of all, the rest of them they don’t even care.

This project targets the next generation, i.e. the high school students: making them aware of what open source is, its extensions and possibilities and most of all, their role in the contributions to the society via open source.

In the present context of Nepal, excluding the government offices and huge financial institutions, more than 90% of the PC’s run pirated version of Microsoft Windows. Despite the persuasion and the creation of awareness, as long as the piracy continues it will always be difficult for the users to switch to Open Source alternatives such as Linux. The major reasons behind it are the cost and the vendor lock.

Cost

Ironic as it seems, the so called Free and Open Source Linux seems to be more expensive than the costly Microsoft Windows due to software piracy. For example, Microsoft Windows, which accommodates on a single CD, can be bought for the price of a CD whereas Fedora Core 5 (the most popular and the latest distribution of Linux) has 5 CDs! Moreover, CDs for Microsoft Windows are readily available even from the local retailing shops whereas Linux is not. The alternatives are either to fetch it from a Linux user or download it from the Fuente: TechSoup Glossary y GenderIT.org ">internet

. Since the Linux users are very limited in number and the internet connection is really expensive in our context it seems to be rather a poor option. This applies not only for OS but also for the softwares that run on top of it.

Vendor Lock

Everyone who starts learning computer begins with Microsoft Windows' Start button. They learn Microsoft Word, Excel and surf the internet with Microsoft's Internet Explorer. So it's not hard to believe that for some people, computer means Microsoft. The effect this produces is something Open Source Gurus like to call – 'Vendor Lock'. People habituated with Windows find it hard to migrate to other OS’es because they are already comfortable with Windows. Apart from this, proprietary softwares also play a major role. One key example of this is Microsoft Word. Documents created with Word are saved in Microsoft's proprietary format, which can't perfectly be opened with other word processors. To make matters worse, the higher versions of the softwares produces files that can't be read by the lower version. So you are forced to upgrade the software even though the previous version was working fine for you. Of course, the upgrade is usually not free of cost.

Though the two scenarios above present a ghastly impression of the current market scenario delineating a blighted future of the open source here in Nepal, the situation is just the opposite. Proprietary software developing companies including Microsoft are putting a lot of effort to stop piracy. Microsoft Windows Service Pack 2 is already giving a hint of this and the upcoming version of Windows Vista is expected to have a tighter piracy control. Hand on hand to this, if the government implements tougher policy on piracy, it will be inevitable that we may actually have to purchase Microsoft Windows, which is simply out of question given the fact that the cost of Windows XP and MS Office is between $199.99 and $499.99 [AMZ] and the GDP per capita of Nepal is $1370 per year [UNCD]. So the cost of just the operating system alone would be equivalent to half a year’s wages of an average Nepali. We have no alternative than Open Source Software.

The second factor, i.e. Vendor Lock, is slightly complicated. As the old saying goes, ‘Old habits die hard’, people who are already familiar with a software possibly have spent time and effort learning it, will find it difficult to switch to another. Browsers would be one of the many good examples to talk about. Many people use IE (Microsoft Internet Explorer) although Windows version of Mozilla Firefox is freely available which is far more secure and has more features than IE. They just don't switch to Firefox because they are already habituated with IE. It's just like eating spaghetti with fork even though chopsticks are the preferred tool – it's just a matter of habit.

In our case, vendor lock starts right from the school level. Our SLC curriculum requires that students learn DOS/Windows as introduction to the Operating Systems, Microsoft Word and Excel for knowledge on word processor and spreadsheet package and QBASIC as a programming language. It is really a serious issue that all of these are proprietary softwares. Further, it won’t be hard to realize the fact that the copy of these softwares implemented by the school may not be a genuine one in all cases. At this point, it is worthy to quote a paragraph from Richard Stallman’s essay 'Why schools should use exclusively free software'.

We expect schools to teach students basic facts, and useful skills, but that is not their whole job. The most fundamental mission of schools is to teach people to be good citizens and good neighbors--to cooperate with others who need their help. In the area of computers, this means teaching them to share software. Elementary schools, above all, should tell their pupils, "If you bring software to school, you must share it with the other children." Of course, the school must practice what it preaches: all the software installed by the school should be available for students to copy, take home, and redistribute further.

Teaching the students to use free software, and to participate in the free software community, is a hands-on civics lesson. It also teaches students the role model of public service rather than that of tycoons.

To tragedy, the schools themselves become the first to give the students a hint that software piracy is acceptable in our context. But in fact, let alone acceptability; software piracy is a crime.

Although it may sound best, it is not possible to change the entire high school curriculum of computer studies in such a short span of time as this project demands. But we can make the students familiar with Open Source Alternatives through presentations, talk programmes and even persuading schools to offer classes relating to the open source softwares as a part of the regular computer studies course.

This project centers its focus on creating the awareness amongst the high school students through talk programmes and presentations. The presenters shall be visiting schools as per schedule and shall be delivering talks on the issues. The primary targets of the project are the 8th and 9th grade students. 10th grade students shall be involved in the project as a minority group since by this time the students are expected to focus more on SLC.

Although students shall be the major audience, equal importance will be given to the teachers as well. It is noteworthy that the technology that the students learn and use is highly influenced by that used by the teachers. If teachers use open source alternatives, it will definitely inspire the students to do so.

The schools that will be visited shall be chosen basing the decision in the following criterias

 Government / Private School

 Number of Students

 Range of Students

The project focuses the government sector on par to the private. These government schools selected should offer the students with courses on computer studies. The second criterion has been encouraged by the fact that more people you address, more awareness it creates. And since the information travels exponentially, it is obvious that a large number always appeals. The third criterion: range of students refers to the fact that the project shall include schools having students preferably from all over the country.

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