empowering users
to control technology

Campaigns

Unlocking the Dutch educational system

We want to enable all citizens to have free access to education and all other public institutions, both online and offline. We wish to achieve this by pushing for a mandatory use of Open Standards and guaranteed platform-independent access to all materials required in the public educational system. This allows students and parents to use Free Software, enabling them to tap into their potential for personal growth and development, without being made dependent of a company.

What do we want to achieve?

In the Netherlands, students have been locked out of school computers, learning accessories, lesson materials, and required data for years due to the use of proprietary software. They are forced to purchase proprietary software just to perform the most basic tasks; such as handing in their assignments, receiving objectives, cooperating on projects, and passing exams. Many schools and especially universities oblige students to use or even own computers with non-free operating systems without any clear reasons for doing so. Moreover, this situation could become much worse now that 'laptop schools' and 'tablet schools' are on the rise, which, combined with compulsory education - of which the minimal age might be increased to 21 years - will not only make it hard to use Free Software in the educational system, but it would even make it illegal not to use proprietary software instead.

The former minister of Education declared, in response to questions from Parliament, that she considered long-term vendor lock-in to be acceptable. Thereby she rejected the ambitious Dutch Open Standards policy framework and ignored the short-term and long-term consequences:

In the spring of 2012, after the cabinet crisis, the campaign went on hiatus, as obviously no new policies could be formed at that time.

Early 2013 the campaign was revived after yet another letter was sent to the Ministry of Education, Culture, and Science; this time to new minister Jet Bussemaker. Her response was far more useful than the one of her predecessor, and has brought us closest to our ultimate target so far. In her response to questions from Parliament, she made the following clear statement: "All Dutch civilians have the right to take part in the Dutch educational system without limitations. This is also the case for Free Software users. No exception must be made for them."

In reality, this promise is seldom lived up to. Although this campaign was at first initiated because of the many problems around the notorious online learning environment Magister, and the most recent campaign was yet again brought to life because of this, the problems are sadly much larger than only that. Nearly three quarters of the high schools in the Netherlands use Magister, a Silverlight program which is obviously completely incompatible with Free Software, but aside from that, there are huge problems concerning open document standards, such as ODF and PDF. Despite the fact that Mrs. Bussemaker literally said that schools are obligated to accept both formats, this is rarely the case anywhere. Students are very regularly forced to save their documents as DOC files, and usually face point deduction in case the lay-out proves to be problematic with the non-free office software installed on the school computers (which is unavoidable with closed standards).

Moreover, it is impossible to follow any education at any Dutch university without being forced to use non-free operating systems and other non-free software, and thereby accepting the associated license agreements. Many courses even have owning a laptop with Microsoft Windows as an implicit admission requirement. Despite the fact that the current minister of Education "acknowledges the limitations in the license agreements of non-free software", educational institutions rarely, if ever, act upon that.

Background

Using proprietary technologies for public services is a deliberate choice for long-term vendor lock-in and forced contract acceptance. This should be prevented at all times; especially in education and the public sector at large. The FSFE wants to push the mandatory use of Open Standards and platform independence in the entire public sector; not just within Dutch legislation, but throughout all of Europe. The Dutch Parliament has been advocating the mandatory use of Open Standards for more than a decade; ever since the resolution of Kees Vendrik in 2002. This led to an ambitious and internationally acclaimed policy framework in 2007. Sadly, this achievement was hampered by the previous minister of Education. She refused to implement the policies, and because of that, schools continued to use proprietary technology and closed standards nearly exclusively. The result was that their students remained to be forced to use proprietary software of specific vendors and to accept the accompanying license agreements against their will. The response of the current minister of Education promises to be a lot more hopeful though. Even though there are many things left to do, her statements at least made clear that she agrees that the current situation is not what we should wish for at all. Using those claims, public educational institutions might finally understand that public education can hardly be called "public" when only the users of non-free software are accepted and welcomed.

This campaign aims to bring about new and sturdier legislation which obligates the use of Open Standards and platform independence, and especially maintains it. That always remained to be the biggest problem: we do have the basic legislation, but nobody seems to care about actually enforcing it. The public educational system exists for everybody; not just for those who have no problems with using proprietary software.

How can I contribute?

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Contact

Kevin Keijzer

nledu@lists.fsfe.org

Hashtag #nledu