Linux can save UK schools billions: Part 2

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It's true, free open source software can and will save schools a small fortune. But why schools in particular?

The first thing to get clear in your mind is that I am not talking about simply replacing expensive proprietary software with free open source equivalents. Sure this measure alone saves money and when you are talking about server software it can be a lot of money.

However what distinguishes schools is a model of computing that has created an unsustainable money eating monster.

Free, open Source software will allow schools to move to a model that will not only save money but will allow more students access toICT. Below is how this can be achieved.

Known unknowns

To use the terminology of a less than great former US Secretary of Defence, there are "Known unknowns" which we can attribute a relatively accurate value to, and thus suggest solutions.

Every year UK Schools spend in excess of £50 million on the electricity needed to power their ICT facilities; somewhere in the region of half a million pounds on proprietary licences for the software they run and goodness knows how much on the 3 billion printouts and photocopies they generate (actually it's about £30,000 per million prints so this would be another £90 million pounds). The grand total is about a £150 million every year.

Printouts and photocopies appear in the figure because the current schools computing paradigm and this cost are closely linked.

This is because 'word processing with pictures' (desktop publishing in school jargon) have enabled teachers to produce worksheets. Apparently harmless enough, these now utterly dominate teaching practice. With the aid of photocopiers (aka laser printers) these worksheets have been and are now handed out to children in their billions.

Unknown unknowns

Unknown unknowns" are more tricky. ICT capital spending in education is traditionally treated as a one time process, viz the costly BSF (Building Schools for the Future ICT budget).

In this process the money is put aside to buy infrastructure hardware and software. The real cost of any capital spend however must include the five year upgrade cycle for hardware and software, increasing support and disposal costs.

These are so intimidating that few financial managers or Governments want to think about it let alone put a figure to it.

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