Education, for me, is still the most exciting field that open source is opening up. It’s a vital part of any civilized society, and so it seems right that the software that helps participants teach and learn should be open. I have no qualms about charging private institutions like Stanford, say, the six figure license fees that some educational software platforms demand – but for tax-funded institutions, these costs and restrictions are unethical. Even for moneyed institutions like Stanford, open source software has built-in feature advantages that commercial or SaaS packages can’t match.
It comes down to how we define public education. Open source advocates might say that all of the educational materials paid for by the public should be available to the public. Some, such as Stephen Downes might go as far as to say that all users of public education, including teachers, students and their parents, should be the ones in control of the entire network.
Well, quite. Education isn’t just another enterprise market. It’s one that all of our economies, livelihoods and lifestyles depend on. Far too important for a significant aspect of the process to be handed over to any one company and locked away in a proprietary system (particularly one that actively sues other vendors, doesn’t fix its own bugs in a timely fashion and charges dramatically over-the-odds fees for its services).
There’s still some work to be done on open source business models for education. People who write software need it to pay their bills for it to be a sustainable endeavor, and most teachers are too overworked to be building software themselves on the side. I think some upcoming server-side products will go some way towards fixing that, and make life easier for educators in the process.