Please use Open Standards for your newspaper's educational resources

Dear Graham,

On 11th February the Guardian published an interesting article entitled "How to teach ... space travel" 1, which explained how to teach students about the history of space travel, and included a downloadable lesson plan and presentation.

Members of our organisation, the Free Software Foundation Europe, who wished to read the files that you provided have contacted us concerning the formats which you used. The only versions of the educational resources which were made available were Microsoft Office files; a proprietary format which does not conform to international standards. Although these file formats can be successfully read by a few applications other than Microsoft Office, they carry an inalienable association with one company and their products. Was it really your intention to advertise Microsoft software when you made your presentations available in their proprietary format?

Open Standards affect all aspects of society, but are especially important in education. Unfortunately the use of non-Free Software 2 and its closed standards in schools often results in non-transferable skills, and technical competency which extends only to a small number of proprietary applications. This problem has been recognised at home and abroad. As the Guardian recently reported, the trade body for the UK's technology sector has called on the Government to drop ICT classes altogether; not least because "the current ICT curriculum is too focused on teaching pupils how to use a limited number of software packages" 3.

Fortunately many tools are available for working with standards based file formats such as Open Document Format. These include Libre Office, which can create, edit and convert a variety of formats, including most Microsoft Office files, on all major operating systems. Libre Office is also Free Software, and free of charge. As someone who invests in the learning of young people, and as an employee of an organisation which has on numerous occasions recognised the importance of Free Software and Open Standards 4 5 6, we ask that you consider using Open Standards for learning materials that you publish in future, and refer to a presentation as just that, and not "the PowerPoint" (this actually breaches Microsoft's own trademark requirements 7).

FSFE's UK Team is available if we can help in any way with matters relating to Free Software or Open Standards.

Yours Sincerely,

UK Team
Free Software Foundation Europe

Footnotes

  1. http://www.guardian.co.uk/education/2011/apr/11/space-travel-guardian-teacher-network
  2. http://fsfe.org/about/basics/freesoftware.html
  3. http://www.guardian.co.uk/government-computing-network/2011/apr/21/intellect-crticises-ict-curriculum-schools?
  4. http://www.guardian.co.uk/technology/opensource
  5. http://www.guardian.co.uk/media/2009/mar/10/guardian-open-platform
  6. http://www.guardian.co.uk/technology/2009/mar/12/open-source-apps
  7. http://www.microsoft.com/about/legal/en/us/IntellectualProperty/Trademarks/Usage/PowerPoint.aspx