We urge educational institutes to use free (as in freedom)/swatantra software that respects students' freedom and privacy. For example, the Department of Scientific Computing, Modeling, and Simulation, Savitribai Phule Pune University has been using free/swatantra software tools for more than 20 years and it's currently helping other departments at Savitribai Phule Pune University adopt free software. Free software is readily available for all activities in the digital classroom and should be preferred over their proprietary counterparts.

What is Free/Swatantra Software?

Free/Swatantra software means that you, as user, have the freedom to run, study, modify, and redistribute the program. Thus, “free software” is a matter of liberty, not price. To understand the concept, you should think of “free” as in “free speech”, not as in “free meals”. With these freedoms, the users, both individually and collectively, control the program and what it does for them. When users don't control the program, we call it “nonfree” or “proprietary” program. Proprietary software is an injustice to the user because it puts its developer or owner in a position of power over its users. The developer uses this power to spy, restrict, censor, and abuse the user.

Why should educational institutes use free software?

Any computer user should use free software for their own freedom, but educational institutes have additional reasons to insist only on free software.

Some reasons are listed below:

  • Software should respect the user's freedom.

  • Proprietary software is often malware.

  • Educational Institutes have a moral responsibility to respect students' freedom and teach students to appreciate it — for their own future and their country's future.

  • Educational institutes often expose students to privacy-invading technology without any real choice to escape from it. Educational institutes should respect students' privacy. Free software is controlled by its users and therefore it can protect them from surveillance.

  • Students cannot learn from proprietary software because it is secret, and it prohibits learning as well as sharing while free software encourages learning and sharing which align with the mission of the schools.

  • Proprietary software makes the institute dependent on the owner of the software while free software allows the institute to be in control.

Free software can save schools money, but this is a secondary benefit. Savings are possible because free software gives schools, like other users, the freedom to copy and redistribute the software; the school system can give a copy to every school, and each school can install the program on all its computers, with no obligation to pay for doing so. Schools can also do necessary modifications as per their requirements without further cost.

Problems with commonly used proprietary tools for education

A lot of institutes rely on Google's Gmail and Microsoft's Outlook for their email communications. Offering Google or Outlook accounts is an injustice because:

a. Google, Yahoo, Microsoft, Apple, and AOL are surveillance systems.

b. Gmail makes psychological profiles not only of Gmail users but of everyone who sends mail to Gmail users.

c. Microsoft Outlook is known to block incoming mails from other email service providers without providing a reason.

Zoom, Google Meet, and Microsoft Teams are proprietary software generally used in live classes and webinars. All of them use their power over the users to collect personal and location data. Zoom collects a lot of data on students. Microsoft Teams and Google Meet also snoop on their users. We urge teachers to help their students in resisting against proprietary videoconferencing platforms; some ideas are listed here.

A lot of times, students are asked to join a WhatsApp group for important announcements which is an injustice to the student because WhatsApp is a nonfree program. Further, WhatsApp does not respect user's privacy.

Google Classroom is another commonly used nonfree program which is an assault on student's privacy. Google Forms are used for filling personal details which sends data to Google, a surveillance company known to track and profile users. Google Drive mistreats users as well.

Chromebooks for schools collect far more data on students than is necessary, and store it indefinitely.

Many exam websites, institute and webinar websites report all their visitors to Google by using the Google Analytics service, which tells Google the IP address and the page that was visited.

Further, educational institutes are invading student's privacy through cheating-detection systems. Requiring students to install a proprietary monitoring software in their own computers is an injustice. Monitoring software, by design, runs even when the owner of the computer tries to stop it from running long after the exam is finished and takes full control of the computer which subjects users to abuse. These monitoring apps collect a lot of data on students such as: Recorded patterns of keystrokes, facial-recognition, microphones and cameras record students' surroundings such as biometric data, full name, date of birth, address, phone number, scans of government-issued identity documents, educational institution affiliation, and student ID numbers, records of operating systems, make and model of the device, as well as device identification numbers, IP addresses, browser type and language settings, software on the device and their versions, ISP, records of URLs visited, and how long students remain on a particular site or webpage etc. The algorithms of these monitoring software could easily flag students who don’t have control over their surroundings as “suspicious” which could further penalize them.

No student should be forced to make a choice between getting surveilled or to fail the exam.

Free Software Recommendations

If you're a parent, talk to your child's school about the importance of using free software that respects the freedom and privacy of students and push for its adoption. If you're a student, team up with your peers and write collective letters to the school raising awareness about free software and urge them to provide a free software infrastructure for your school. You can learn from people who successfully resisted the use of nonfree software in the institutes.

Here's a list of freedom-respecting software that can be used in education:

Operating system: GNU/Linux distros

Online Classes: Jitsi, BigBlueButton. See this for more details

Instant Messenger: Element, Quicksy, Conversations. See this for more details

Uploading videos: PeerTube

E-learning platform: Moodle

Recording Lectures: OBS

Sharing notes, lecture videos etc. : Nextcloud, Lufi

Digital writing pad: Xournal

Document editor: LibreOffice

Form filling: KoBoToolbox, NextCloud FormsDisroot provides NextCloud Forms.

Email: Institutes can hire a free software consultancy to run their own mail server. For self-hosting mails, Mail-in a-Box , iRedMail and Freedom Box are good options. Further, the users of the mail server(students, teachers, other staff etc) can use end-to-end encryption so that only the participants of a communication can read the mails. Furthermore, PGP or pEp may be used to encrypt emails to recipients. For information about using PGP see the FSF's Email Self-Defense guide; for pEp see pep.security/docs. For most users, pEp might be more straightforward to use.

The GNU website lists free software that can be used in schools and educational institutions of all levels. The Free Software Foundation keeps a comprehensive database of educational software at the Free Software Directory.

Freeduc-USB is a bootable USB stick that contains useful applications for the classroom.

When an educational institute provides laptops to students, they should choose laptops which can run fully free software-- check RYF laptops by FSF and LibreTech. For other hardware which can run fully free software, check h-node.

Educational resources should be 'free' as in freedom

[ Don't let proprietary limitations stand in the way of discovery - Image ]

In today's age, free sharing of scientific knowledge has become the worst conceivable crime one can think of. Scientific journals like Elsevier lock up academic research behind paywalls and prohibit sharing with others. Since, the academic research is funded by public money, it should be available free of cost as well as free in freedom. For arguments on how the principles of software freedom apply to academic papers, please read this essay. Educational resources-- like videos, recorded lectures, academic papers should be released under free/swatantra licenses only. The GNU Free Documentation License (GFDL) is a free license that can be used for educational works. Creative Commons has two free licenses: CC-BY and CC-BY-SA for this purpose. If you release your academic papers under a free license, it will give everyone an opportunity to learn from you. Some free (as in freedom) learning resources are mentioned here. We must not allow scientific knowledge to get locked.

Free Software adoption in Indian education

IT syllabus of class XI in Maharashtra now includes free software. The state of Kerala migrated more than 2,600 public schools to free software. Unfortunately, Kerala is the only state in India where IT education is imparted over a Free software operating system and other states should also take initiative in this direction. A free software named Tux Paint used at VHSS Irimpanam school, Kerala, where 11 and 12 years old students exercised the freedom to learn how the program works and modify the program, which demonstrates that even non programmers or children, can actually influence and improve information technology when software freedom is granted. School-age children were able to effectively and quickly exercise software freedom with Tux Paint in the PC-in-the-Village Experiment, Goa.

Some of the educational institutions in India that are using exclusively Free Software:

If you know of other institutes which use free software, please let us know, we would like to add them in this list. If you need help in switching your institute to free software, feel free to contact us, we would be very glad to help you.

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