Oldham, England Brings Open Source To Schools
It's good to see news about continuing adoption of open source software in schools around the world. I've written before about how doable it would be for many American schools to reduce costs, increase efficiency and arm kids with Linux notebooks through open source adoption. I've also concluded that excessive love of the Mac and the improbability of the arrival of paperless processes will keep many schools from taking the FOSS leap. However, schools in Oldham, England--a metropolitan borough of Manchester--are leaping.
Not only are Oldham schools adopting open source software to deliver Internet-based services but Oldham Council appears to have done its homework. The Linux-based lash-up they've chosen uses open source Squid cache and web proxy software along with MySQL and WebSense filtering and security software. MySQL was reportedly chosen because "it's free and simple to use."
Why is it that Europe is so far ahead of America in this kind of thinking? In this post, I looked into another effort from England analyzing how schools could use open source to go paperless, and arm kids with Linux notebooks. In a subsequent post, I cited another post providing an interesting analysis of some specific software tools that could help schools go open source.
I drew a pointed rebuttal from a reader in that last post. An IT administrator for public schools wrote this: "Until open source can displace one of our two existing platforms (Mac or PC), adding a third platform will require a third administrator, at a likely cost of $65-75K/year (salary & benefits). It's hard to argue the cost savings when you have to add headcount."
It is a good point that support and administration resources are often weaknesses for open source software solutions, but I'm a firm believer that with the dire funding issues that many school districts face, creative solutions for saving money through open source adoption are doable. For example, let's take $75,000 a year as what it would cost for a school district to hire an IT person skilled in open source.
How could the district make up that cost? I think it could be done easily. The software licensing costs and the hardware costs for the proprietary platforms that schools favor are money pits. Slash those, hire a skilled administrator who can handle all open source implementations for all schools in a district, and the district ends up with money to spare.
I'm not saying I think this will happen on a widespread basis. I'm just saying it's doable and worth discussion.