[clug] Linux in education [SEC=UNCLASSIFIED]

Paul Wayper paulway at mabula.net
Tue Oct 9 21:33:38 GMT 2007

Hash: SHA1

Rousak, Boris wrote:
> Sounds really good - but unfortunately teachers have limited time to
> teach a class so "magical incantations" is what it comes down to. It is
> then up to the student to ask "how does it actually work" and if the
> teacher is good and is willing to invest the time, they will point the
> student in the right direction and help them find the answer. 

Then the answer to this is in the education system itself.  All the teachers
I've met have wanted to educate their pupils.  None of them have said "stuff
the little monsters, all I'm interested in getting up and telling them the
answers to the questions so's I get paid."  The only reason that teachers are
in the position of having to do that is because those who manage the education
process - often people with little or no teaching time or even qualification
in education - are making decisions about what teachers can and cannot do.
They are the ones that are loading the classes up with more students; reducing
curricula to the bare essentials; setting the structures so the kids come out
as nice little units to fit into the production mill.

We need to strike a balance between the freedom to learn what you want however
you want, and the discipline of learning the skills (including that of
learning) that will see you through later life.  The whole reason we have an
education system is that, centuries ago, it was pushed through by citizens'
lobby groups and the government made it mandatory so that those children could
escape the trap of being low-paid, dead-end-job adults.  So on the one hand we
need to treat education as a grant and not a right, and on the other hand we
need to keep pushing for more education, for better education, for education
that works with everybody and not just with those who are already suited to
mass-produced, minimum-contact stuff.

Obviously this is an ongoing process, and we are still continuing to have the
debate on exactly how our education system should run.

At the moment I'm on Cape Breton Island, a land settled in various ways by the
Miq'maw Nation, English, French, Scots and Irish over time.  It's trying to
hold on to its traditions, in language, song and dance, by education.  There
are very few jobs for Gaelic speakers out there, although in Canada, where
French and English are the official languages and they need announcements and
signs and so forth in both of them, learning both French and English can be a
good way to get a good job.  But very few can get a job speaking Gaelic or
singing songs or dancing, and really that's not the point; they're doing it to
preserve the history.  Learning about the development of Linux, or Unix, or
Microsoft Windows and DOS, or emacs, or whatever, can be an education in
history, in social politics, in logic and program design, and can still help
you do your homework.

Addressing David Tulloh's concern about my anti-Microsoft bent, I'm really
simply echoing the sentiment I heard expressed in a Linux Weekly News a while
back: that learning to do your work with any tool can sometimes mean that
you're committed to using that tool in future.  Software is somewhere in
between that, where a Stanley is as good as a Sidchrome is as good as a
yum-cha chinese brand for most things and a screwdriver can be used as a
makeshift chisel or hammer or lockpick, and the world of mathematics that Sam
Couter mentioned, where each 'tool' has a slightly different purpose and,
while working out the volume of a paraboloid may be quicker and easier using
differentiation than by the monte carlo method, often you can't get any idea
at all if you tried using number theory or venn diagrams.  If using the monte
carlo method was free and someone had patented differentiation and charged a
hefty fee for its use, I'd say the former would be a lot more popular for
everyday use.  There's a type of simple circuit for running switched-mode
power supplies that creates a perfectly flat output naturally and uses a
minimum of components; unfortunately it's patented and a fee is charged for
its use so no-one ever learns about it except as a
useful-but-vaguely-inappropriate theory.  Helpful, eh?

This gets back to David's idea of "the school's position".  I think the only
reason they might not care about freedom or price *now* is that we're not
making them issues.  Schools care very much about money - every dollar they
spend on buying licenses for any software is a dollar they can't spend on a
new safety mat, classroom repair; and collectively by spending that money on
licenses the schools are also taking it away from the teachers.  Then they
have the question of sharing the software - i.e. they can't.  I dumped some
old computers at Computer Charity or whatever it's called a long while ago,
and they install Windows because "it's what everyone uses".  Note that they
don't install Microsoft Office, or Visual Basic or C++, or Photoshop,
Dreamweaver or Flash Creator.  Where do you draw the line on "what everyone
uses?"  We've seen examples in this debate of schools that are insisting on
having a document in a format that requires a full version of expensive
software, even though there was no valid reason to do so.  My parents
struggled to get me to a private school for my education, and struggled to buy
 uniforms and textbooks and send me on school trips; why should schools add
the extra cost of forcing them to buy a set of software, especially when there
is a free alternative?

The idea that "what everyone uses" should be what's given is a product purely
of these software companies.  I say this because of the simple reason that
every job is unique in one way or another; so going to any new job will always
require a level of learning new things that are often completely individual to
that company.  We see this in computing all the time - I'm used to Fedora but
CentOS does some things slightly differently, and I'll bet RHEL does too.
What about a Debian shop?  I worked for a company that only had Perl 4 on some
machines.  No-one comes out of high school or a university degree expecting
that life in the employed world will be the same process and require the same
skills as what they're used to - apart from maybe wearing a tie and suit even
in Brisbane in summer.  We all learn to adapt.  Why should we expect that one
set of software be used everywhere?

Anyway, enough rambling from me.  How much is Maple Syrup per litre over
there, because it's surprisingly expensive over here ($20/litre in a farmer's

Have fun,

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