Lessons of Open Source revolution lost on education bureaucracies

(this essay originally published on www.selfdesign.org in July 2007)

I remember the night a friend first told me about Open Source computing. It was a gorgeous summer night in 1999, and I listened, rapt, as he extolled its virtues and asserted it would be the Next Big Thing emerging in computers.

Programmers everywhere, he said, would contribute their ideas to product and software development without fear of proprietary backlash.

And so it has come to pass. Open Source programming has dramatically shifted the world of computing from a world of digital piracy to one where innovators worldwide contribute synergistically and share in the benefits. Sort of like a silicon tea party hosted by Deepak Chopra.

The biggest winners appear to be companies like Linux and Apache, but almost the entire computing world is benefitting from the Open Source evolution. Our society is also a big winner since the Open Source entry on the scene, not just for the unique products that that could be considered as Open Source ‘babies’ (Wikipedia comes to mind as do myriad other soaftware apps) but because OS has also highlighted the value of ‘thinking outside the box’, innovating and the attributes of organic development.

You’d think the virtues of the Open Source revolution would have created an important ripple in the field of education, and especially influenced the thinking of ministries and departments of education.

Guess again. By increments, education ministries and departments across the continent are more forsworn than ever to top-down schooling characterized by rigid and prescribed learning outcomes and standardized testing. The result is a one-size-fits-all system that marginalizes innovative educators and penalizes students whose natural intelligences stray beyond the three Rs.

In BC, the present government, continuing the work of its predecessor, has thrown off any vestiges of the long-abandoned ‘Year 2000’ program (remember the bold, new direction sculpted by the Sullivan Commission that was to precipitate a shift to a ‘learning society’ and reflected the majority interests of citizens) to impose its own narrowly-defined education prescription. The goal? Improve graduation rates from secondary school, period.

Multiple Intelligences? Holistic Learning? Google that thought, dude. This ain’t the eighties!

What a lost opportunity.

– Michael Maser


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