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Why schools should use exclusively free software
by Richard Stallman
There are general reasons why all computer users should insist on free
software. It gives users the freedom to control their own
computers--with proprietary software, the computer does what the
software owner wants it to do, not what you want it to do. Free
software also gives users the freedom to cooperate with each other, to
lead an upright life. These reasons apply to schools as they do to
But there are special reasons that apply to schools. They are the
subject of this article.
First, free software can save the schools money. Even in the richest
countries, schools are short of money. Free software gives schools,
like other users, the freedom to copy and redistribute the software, so
the school system can make copies for all the computers they have. In
poor countries, this can help close the digital divide.
This obvious reason, while important, is rather shallow. And proprietary
software developers can eliminate this disadvantage by donating copies
to the schools. (Watch out!--a school that accepts this offer may have
to pay for future upgrades.) So let's look at the deeper reasons.
School should teach students ways of life that will benefit society as a
whole. They should promote the use of free software just as they
promote recycling. If schools teach students free software, then the
students will use free software after they graduate. This will help
society as a whole escape from being dominated (and gouged) by
megacorporations. Those corporations offer free samples to schools for
the same reason tobacco companies distribute free cigarettes: to get
children addicted (1). They will not give discounts to these students
once they grow up and graduate.
Free software permits students to learn how software works. When
students reach their teens, some of them want to learn everything there
is to know about their computer system and its software. That is the
age when people who will be good programmers should learn it. To learn
to write software well, students need to read a lot of code and write a
lot of code. They need to read and understand real programs that people
really use. They will be intensely curious to read the source code of
the programs that they use every day.
Proprietary software rejects their thirst for knowledge: it says, "The
knowledge you want is a secret--learning is forbidden!" Free software
encourages everyone to learn. The free software community rejects the
"priesthood of technology", which keeps the general public in ignorance
of how technology works; we encourage students of any age and situation
to read the source code and learn as much as they want to know. Schools
that use free software will enable gifted programming students to
The next reason for using free software in schools is on an even deeper
level. We expect schools to teach students basic facts, and useful
skills, but that is not their whole job. The most fundamental mission
of schools is to teach people to be good citizens and good
neighbors--to cooperate with others who need their help. In the area of
computers, this means teaching them to share software. Elementary
schools, above all, should tell their pupils, "If you bring software to
school, you must share it with the other children." Of course, the
school must practice what it preaches: all the software installed by
the school should be available for students to copy, take home, and
Teaching the students to use free software, and to participate in the
free software community, is a hands-on civics lesson. It also teaches
students the role model of public service rather than that of tycoons.
All levels of school should use free software.
(1). RJ Reynolds tobacco company was fined $15m in 2002 for handing out
free samples of cigarettes at events attended by children. See