Gloedvol betoog onderwijs & open source
In het artikel Opening up Computer Studies in the UK houdt Glyn Moody een hartverwarmend pleidooi voor de inzet van open source-software in het Britse onderwijs. Hij beeindigt zijn artikel met een open brief, gericht aan de Royal Society, die momenteel een onderzoek laat verrichten over de inzet van computers in het onderwijssysteem. Dat de expertise die daarbij ingeroepen wordt uitblinkt in het ontbreken van bedrijven die open source-software ontwikkelen, is een schop tegen het zere been van Moody. Ik kan me daarbij van harte aansluiten en onderschrijf de boodschap in zijn brief dan ook van harte.
I applaud the fact that the Royal Society is looking at computing in schools, one of the areas most in need of reform in our educational system. In my experience as the father of children in primary and secondary schools, the subject has become totally divorced from the everyday reality of the digital domain. Given the unprecedented progress and unremitting excitement of the field, turning it into a stodgy and boring waste of time is both a considerable achievement and an utter disgrace.
One of the key problems with computing taught in schools is that it consists largely of learning where a few commands are on a couple of Microsoft applications. This is not computing, it is brainwashing. It inculcates the idea that word processing means Microsoft Word, and that the only spreadsheet is Microsoft Excel.
Thanks to this, children may develop a natural resistance to using alternatives such as the OpenOffice.org suite, with the result that they miss out on software that is both powerful and free. Similarly, schools become locked into the Microsoft ecosystem, and have to pay thousands of pounds unnecessarily. Parents, too, lose out, since they often feel obliged to buy Microsoft Office for use at home, or they “borrow” copies from work – hardly something to be encouraged.
If, instead, word processing were taught without reference to a particular product, and children were encouraged to explore different options – Microsoft Word, OpenOffice.org, AbiWord, they would begin to understand the broader concepts that lie behind computing. They would also take an active part in their education, rather than being forced into the current deadly-dull passive role. They would begin to see computers as ways of solving problems, not of ticking boxes of tasks completed in order to pass exams that are worth little anyway.
This lack of creativity feeds into the subjects that should, normally, be supported by computing – notably the sciences. When pupils are forced to view the digital world through limited optics, they are less able to widen their view when trying to solve problems in other areas. Encouraging creativity and an openness to exploration and experimentation would have major positive spillover effects for the sciences.
These kind of computing skills are critical not just for those who will go on to become scientists, but for all citizens. Their future will be permeated with new digital devices offering ever-richer digital services. The key skill they must learn at school is not to find their way around the File menu in Microsoft Word, but to be able to navigate through these complex and daunting new landscapes opening up to them, and to make good choices for themselves and their families. That requires quite a different kind of digital literacy from the one being taught so badly today.
In summary, I urge the Royal Society to call for more openness in schools’ teaching of computing; it is, after all, the same openness to new ideas and new inventions that lay behind the founding of the Royal Society itself.”