The love story between Italian schools and open software has still not blossomed though the prerequisites exist. They are definitely soul mates, as the saying goes, with a vocation for the diffusion of knowledge. But, alas, love is blind, and, in this case, the school system just can’t seem to see the possibilities.
With just a few concrete examples every school should be convinced of adopting open source. In 2009, the province of Bolzano decided to abandon, where possible, pay software and about 80 schools in the area switched to open source software. IT spending plummeted from 269,000 euros to 27,000, solely for hardware maintenance. This is equivalent to almost 10 times less in costs, and it is only at a local level: imagine the funds that could be saved at a regional or national level. The things that could be done with these resources that have been saved: acquiring new hardware, renovating laboratories, investing in training, and many other things.
So what is it that keeps Italian schools from embracing open source software? Principally, it is does not know about it. Many teachers have learned how to use PC’s through classes that use Windows XP or similar; they have spent a lot of time and energy in understanding Office and its components (Word, Excel, etc.). Obviously, if you ask them to then do something new, their answer is almost always: “I know how to use this, I don’t want to change!”. If they would just give a chance to OpenOffice or LibreOffice, they would realize that the changeover is completely painless.
Possibly a move to truly open source operating systems, based on Linux, foresees a minimum of extra knowledge and study of basic functions, but, in the end, the benefits are undoubtedly greater: no costs, regularly updated system, fast even on obsolete PC’s; pre-installed software that responds to 90% of needs, even for the most able of users. And we are talking about operating systems that are created for schools!
Take, for example, Edubuntu, or, better yet, the Italian gem WiildOs, based on Linux and which promises to make you forget about Windows and even the software that manages Interactive Multimedia Whiteboards. Ask those who have installed it: from Trento to Puglia, none will go back.
But there are many powerful types of software that are totally free, and that allow teachers to renew and innovate lessons. Vym is excellent for creating beautiful mental maps; iTalc or ePoptes allow teachers to check the desktops of students in the presence of multiple computers; Geogebra is already in use by many teachers who work with geometric figures, functions, vectors, etc.; LibreCAD creates technical designs in two dimensions; Calibre is an electronic bookstore that serves to catalog eBooks, PDFs, and many other files. I could continue with this list of academic programs for hours.
Paradoxically, what is missing, and what would probably attract more teachers to try open source software is precisely a list. Flavia Marzano, teacher and president of Stati Generali dell’Innovazione, has asked many times for the creation of a national repository or a center of expertise that a teacher can turn to when they want to migrate towards open source software, but politicians have, until now, ignored this request. Something similar does already exist on the Internet, a resource that I happily note: the Osservatorio Tecnologico per la Scuola, created by the Regional Scholastic Office of Liguria. It is possible to find indications and experiences of those who have used these softwares. And, possibly, by reading what is already occurring, all schools will want to try too and finally the love story between schools and open source will bloom.