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Department of Basic Education bans Free and Open Source Software in SA Schools and mandates programming an ancient, moribund language in contradiction of government's own policy
591 days ago

Today I received a copy of a Circular S9/2013 from the Department of Basic Education (DBE) that made me as angry as I have ever been in my life. In effect it destroyed any initiative in schools that offer the subjects "Computer Applications Technology" (CAT) and "Information Technology" (IT) and that use open source software. For CAT, the DBE has indicated that only Microsoft Office can be used and that this will only be MSO2010 and MSO2013 as from 2014. I learned that in IT they have dumped Java, effectively from 2013, and have prescribed Delphi, a language that is not in general use today and is basically Pascal with a Graphical User Interface.

The directive states re CAT:

... from January 2014, and November 2014, the DBE will only use Microsoft Office to respectively implement the CAT curriculum and assess CAT as part of the NSC examinations. Furthermore, only the latest two version of MS Office will be use, i.e. MS OFfice 2010 and MS Office 2013. Should newer version of MS Office be released, the phasing out of olderversions and implementation of newer versions will be communicated to all stakeholders.

The directive states re IT:

The programming language to implement the IT curriculum will be standardised using Delphi. Due to training requirements for provinces currently using Java, implementation will be as follows: Grade 11 implementation in January 2015, and grade 12 implementation in January 2016.

As from November 2016, the DBE will only use Delphi for assessment in the IT NSC examinations.

This is a shocking embarrassment to our nation. Last year, then the DBE failed to ensure textbook distribution to certain schools in Limpopo, the press (correcly) went into a feeding frenzy. This is a bigger issue, because it disadvantages every school child in the nation, creates a whole generation of technology slavery, and denies school learners the opportunity to learn programming technologies that are ACTUALLY IN USE. The decision to implement Delphi is a bit like mandating Latin as the language for literature. The press will probably not go into a feeding frenzy because the IT disaster is less obvious to the uninformed than the much less important text book debacle.

This is wrong on so many levels, that it will be difficult for me to convey them all in the time available to write this blog post. However, let me list a few:

  1. The decision to allow only a single operating system from a single license rental company (Microsoft) is anti-competitive, and denies school learners exposure to a variety of viable alternatives, and also denies other companies access to the school environment.
  2. The decision to allow only a single office suite from a single license rental company (Microsoft) is anti-competitive, and denies school learners exposure to a variety of viable alternative office suites that could indeed run even on said operating system, and also denies other companies access to the school environment.
  3. The directive locks school children to a particular company's product, hiding from them that there are viable alternatives that they can have full control over, and that does not lock them into being customers of a particular license rental company (indeed that do not extract rents from artificial scarcity at all and that respects their freedom).
  4. The decision passes a cost burden onto parents, as in purchasing a laptop for their children will now be required to pay for license fees to Microsoft products, even though viable free alternatives are available.
  5. The South African government has a Free and Open Source Software Policy, that was promulgated in 2007, and this directive is counter to that policy completely in that it FORCES the implementation of proprietary technologies where viable FOSS alternatives exists in contradiction to government's own policy.
  6. IT should be the subject that excites the next generation of software engineers. Goodness knows, we are not producing enough of those by a long shot in South Africa at present. Teaching a moribund language is not going to excite anyone. It would be far better to teach something that is acutally in use, and to allow young people to build real world appliations for mobile phones, tablets, web applications, games. This is how you excite the next generation. Python, PHP, Java, Javascript... any 21st Century language would be better than Delphi. Any. Any at all.

I have no doubt that many lies will be told about the cost of implementing FOSS, etc. I hope that when you see them, you will recognise them for the corrupt untruths they are. 

DOWNLOAD: Circular S9/2013