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Letter to Joint Secretary Secondary Education-MHRD February2009 New Delhi

To Shri S.C.Khuntia,
Joint Secretary, MHRD,
Government of India, New Delhi

Sub - Including Free and Open Source Software (FOSS) in IT learning curriculum of Kendriya Vidyalaya

Shri Khuntia,

We wish to bring to your kind attention that the Kendriya Vidyalaya Sanghatan (KVS) has entered into a MOU with Microsoft Corporation India Private Limited (enclosed with this letter), wherein the goal is to “implement Project Shiksha, a program that aims to promote IT literacy across the Country and will entail the provision of resources in each of the 18 regions of KVS to facilitate teacher training, the formulation and implementation of a comprehensive teacher training program, the creation of a IT curriculum for students, and a teacher and student scholarship program”.

The MOU states that “Microsoft has decided to implement Project Shiksha, as a philanthropic gesture, to accelerate IT literacy for teachers and students throughout the schools run by KVS.” However, the MOU states that “2) Microsoft will also determine and design the content of the student curriculum to be introduced as a subject in respect of information technology in all classes from 6th standard up to the 10th standard by KVS” Under Project Shiksha, thus the Government has no role in curriculum design. The result is that only Microsoft applications are 'taught' in these academies. The MOU does not allow the teaching of alternatives that exist, such as GNU Linux operating system or the Open Office application in Project Shiksha. This restriction contravenes the ''philanthropic' nature of the support extended by Microsoft and there are critical pedagogical and economic implications of such restriction:

1. Free and Open Source Software (FOSS) such as GNU/Linux, Open Office, Firefox have equivalent features as the Microsoft Windows, Microsoft Office and Internet Explorer applications being taught in these academies. Millions of people are using these FOSS applications all over the world and in India as well. The advantage of Free and Open Source software (FOSS) is that being 'free software', the user has the freedom to make copies and distribute the same, which is an important freedom for the teachers who undergo the training under Project Shiksha, to prevent their (and their students) being compelled to spend considerable amounts of monies procuring proprietary software for their own personal / home computers.

2. FOSS applications can also be modified - both maintained and extended by anybody, instead of being forced to go to only one vendor. In India , this is especially useful for local language extensions etc, which can be done by a much larger community of free software professionals, instead of waiting for releases from the vendor only. Thus learning ICTs acquires a new powerful dimension - of the learners being co-constructors using software as tools, instead of being 'passive consumers' of proprietary technologies. The 'National Curriculum Framework 2005, which is an important part of Government Education policy has stress on this principle of 'constructivism' being critical to learning. CDAC has taken advantage of this feature of FOSS, to release local language extensions of Open Office in major Indian Languages.

3. In the interests of the pedagogical principle of diversity of learning, forcing a single vendor's ICT applications on teachers in Government schools is not desirable. It is our submission that curriculum design is the responsibility of the Government and cannot be solely determined by a private company. Under this program thus government funds are being used (teachers TA, DA etc is paid by the Government) to promote the proprietary technology of a private company.

4. Most importantly Governments by their very reach and mandate, have a key role in setting public standards. By the very act of adopting free and open technologies, the Government supports setting up of open standards, which supports the public good. By this, governments will be encouraging the use of FOSS.

Use of FOSS at such a huge scale will help create a FOSS eco-system, which has enormous benefits to society at large, apart from all its direct benefits for the adopting government agencies. This is the reason why the MCIT has released draft document mandating adoption of Open Standards in government. Keeping the above advantages in mind, the National Knowledge commission and the Planning Commission have also recommended that governments should encourage and adopt open source widely. Hence it is our submission that government schools need to actively support the use and creation of a free software syallabi in on ICT in school education instead of only promoting proprietary software. We feel that it is problematic for the government to enter into a MOU where the curriculum only covers proprietary technologies, especially when FOSS alternatives exist. We hope our submission will be considered by MHRD to review the MoU between KVS and Microsoft and remove the restrictive clauses so that FOSS applications are also taught to government school teachers under this program.

We look forward to your response and do let us know if you need any clarifications.

Yours truly,

gurumurthy

(Gurumurthy Kasinathan)
enclosed:
a. MOU between KVS and Microsoft (http://www.kvsangathan.nic.in/microsoft.pdf) and
b. Note on “A note on why Government should adopt and promote Free Software”