Hot on the heels of Becta finding in 2005 that using free software saves schools money, its bastard child, Open Source Schools, six years later publishes a paper describing how schools could to do more for less with FOSS.
Truth be told FOSS has made microscopic inroads into school ICT since Becta’s profound insight. We blame the usual suspects: FUD, biased Gov procurement , MSCE technical chauvinists, teachers, or the Open Source Community itself.
In business, the customer is always right even when they are wrong. Failure to sell is a failure to make others want to buy. It’s fun to bait the ICT support folk or raise bogeyman bearing FUD but it’s not their fault, I know that... and students don’t care either way... so why is it so hard to get high quality FOSS into schools when in contrast business really ‘gets it’ now.
FOSS is a feminist issue.
Schools are highly feminised workplaces. Overall over 70% of the teachers are women and 90% of the admin and class support staff (which broadly are equal in number to the teaching staff) which means that the overwhelming majority of adult computer users in schools are female.
So unless you believe that men and women have similar attitudes and dispositions to technology, schools present a gender-skewed marketing challenge.
The challenge is made more interesting in the light of the following:
1) ICT professionals are overwhelmingly male, as are school ICT technicians and Heads of ICT teaching departments.
2) Senior Staff (ie procurement and strategy play makers) are now (just) composed of a female majority.
3) Young teachers have high levels of ICT skills and research shows there is no differentiation in these skills between younger male and female teachers.
4) Older females teachers and female classroom support staff have the lowest ICT skills.
More on Teachers (mostly female)
Teachers are annually assessed on how well they integrate ICT into their teaching.
So it is no surprise they request expensive software like Photoshop, take pride in their PowerPoint and Interactive Whiteboard skills and proudly display our ECDL certificates. Without the above ‘skills’ in place a teacher will get a lower rating in the annual performance assessment.
This brings us to the nub of the issue. By and large female teachers take their work very seriously indeed (yes I am saying more so than men)and this includes their ICT skills.
But teachers generally do not love their IT.
Their attitude (speaking from long experience) is split into two. The first thread is that they see computers and associated equipment merely as tools to get a task done. In this context familiarity and reliability trump all other requirements.
The second thread is best described as ‘careerist’ or approval-status related.
A display of ICT skills is rated according to its approval index. Thus a slick MS PowerPoint presentation projected from an svelte i-Pad in front of Ofsted or parents accrues credit whereas a quick RAM upgrade or mastery of Blender would not.
This is not a bad thing but maybe FOSS would be more successful in schools if it became female friendly.
I can offer a starter suggestion: Don’t call software The Gimp, GNU-anything or TomBoy