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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 
redistribute further.

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 

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