Wouldn’t $1Bn worth of Open Coursework be better?

One of the election platforms of the (Australian) Federal Government last year was the provision of computers to all secondary school students (ie years 9-12) in the country, administered by the States.  The problem for the States was that the Commonwealth would fund the hardware, but States would need to pick up software, networking, installation, maintenance and all the other associated costs.

The good news for open source is that the States are trying to squeeze the most they can out of the money they are receiving and it looks likely that Netbooks and open source will play a substantial role:

NSW wants to offer 197,000 secondary school students wireless-enabled netbooks that would possibly run on open-source software such as Linux.

The Australian Article 2 December 08

Now, much as the prospect of Linux laptops in the hands of 197,000 NSW school students warms the cockles of my when-I-have-my-open-source-hat-on heart,  it’s less than impressive to me with my parent hat on.

If I had my druthers rather than taking $1Bn and sinking it into a depreciating asset, I would have taken that $1Bn and spent it on a renewable and appreciating asset like open courseware.[1]  Some back of the envelope calculations indicate that $1Bn could produce a text book and associated teaching notes for every course taught in secondary school in the country [2] – this would save Australian families several hundred dollars per child *per year*.  Moreover, it would save schools a tremendous amount for copyright taxes and text book purchases (the price of text books would not be zero, but would reduce to the be close to the cost of printing). It would make the learning of children more effective as they would have access to all relevant texts in a format most appropriate to their learning style and would be particularly useful for children from disadvantaged backgrounds who might otherwise not have the same quality of access to texts.

Openly licensing this material would allow the textbooks to be incrementally updated over time.  Moreover, individual teachers would be able to customise and extend them for their needs.    Openly licensed, they would also not be subject to copyright limits which destroy innovation.  There would be no barrier, for example, to enhancing texts with online materials or supplementary applications, audio or video.  Imagine how much more effective our teachers would be if they spent their time customising material for their needs, rather than reinventing the material from scratch…

[1] No, AESharenet FFE (or most other AES licences), CC-*-NC, CC-*-ND are absolutely, definitely not “open” for these purposes as I’m concerned.

[2] Assume 200 pages per text, at 6 person hours per page, and 1200 person-hours in a year = 1 person-year per text.  Assuming a teacher qualified enough to write the texts gets paid $200K/year (<cough>) $1e9 is equivalent to 5,000 texts.


3 Responses to “Wouldn’t $1Bn worth of Open Coursework be better?”

  1. 1 Francis Xavier Holden 3 December 2008 at 8:49 pm

    They won’t look seriously at OSS. MS will jump in and do a bulk deal at state level and schools will be stuck with it.

  2. 2 eatmee 4 December 2008 at 12:00 pm

    I cut my teeth as a programmer in hypercard on a mac classic and learn’t to be a l33t office monkey in claris works, the argument that you must learn MS products is utter BS.

    My punt is it will be an all MS lock up, maybe with a couple of mac books on the side. Within months we should see virus/malware/violent video game/chat room/pr0n moral panic followed by the state coughing up billion odd more for dis-functional censorware (defeated within the blink of an eye), within a year or 2 the state will cough up again for more MS upgrades and possibly some more RAM.

    Possible there will be a pilot of linux, but untrained/unwilling staff will chuck a hissyfit that they cant run some dodge .exe that there is a perfectly good open source alternative for that they cant/don’t want to work out how to use… probably the odd segfault as well.

  3. 3 John Nox 5 December 2008 at 9:59 am

    Thank you very much! very useful information, it is useful for my work on the Internet! +1

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