Open Source: Modernizing India's education system

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Over the last few years, open source adoption has been growing within India's education system. Five years ago, the South Indian state of Kerala, pioneered open source in schools with its famous IT@Schools project, that now covers three million students from the 5th-10 standards, involves 200,000 teachers across 4071 schools. Since then, other Indian states like Karnataka, Gujarat, Assam, West Bengal and others have made open source a key part of their school education initiatives.

Many schools in India do not have proper premises, blackboards or toilets. In these circumstances, equipping schools with computers seems like a challenge, despite the fact that the Indian Government has decided to spend 6 percent of GDP on education. Proprietary software vendors offer deep discounts for schools and spend close to $20 million on “Train-The-Trainer” programs that enable school teachers to impart computer education to their students. Despite these blandishments, many governments find proprietary software an expensive way of computerizing their schools. For example, a study by the Indian Institute of Management, Bangalore, found that the Kerala government's usage of OSS saved it Rs 49 crore ($10.2 million).

The growing popularity of OSS in the Indian school system has thrown up its own set of challenges. Many school teachers and administrators are not aware of OSS for schools, while those who are willing to deploy OSS are held back by a lack of training materials and other infrastructure. To address these challenges, a group of Civil Society Organizations (CSOs) came together in February to hold a workshop in Jaipur, the capital of Rajasthan state in India. The core focus of the workshop titled, “Public Software for Social Sector--Principles and Practice,” was how open source software (OSS) could help address the challenges of modernizing India's education system.

The workshop was hosted by Digantar, a Jaipur-based CSO that has been working in the education sector for the last 15 years. Digantar has been able to deliver results equivalent to the best schools, while operating on the budgets of government schools. For this reason, Digantar has attracted wide attention from educationists who are keen on replicating Digantar's success in other parts of India. While the principles of openness, collaboration and sharing that are part of the open source way attracted Digantar to OSS, it was hesitant in taking the first steps because it has no technical expertise in deploying OSS. This is where IT for Change and Knowledge Commons, two CSOs working on OSS in education stepped in, by providing the technical content and also helping Digantar with its plan of migrating from proprietary software to OSS. The workshop was supported by UNESCO; Digital Empowerment Foundation, which works in the complementary area of digital content; and the Linux Users Group, Jaipur, which helped in migrating Digantar's computers to open source. The unifying factor for all these diverse CSOs to work together is a shared belief that OSS is one of the best tools for modernizing the India education system.

The workshop had the following objectives:

1. Creating awareness about OSS amongst people who have not heard of it. This includes the social, political, economic and pedagogic imperatives of OSS and the dangers from proprietary software to society. Most people in the social sector use proprietary software since they have not heard of public software and this workshop aims to bring about awareness on its advantages as well as addressing challenges, both real and mythical in its adoption.

2. Addressing the perceptions/issues amongst people who are aware of OSS to help them commit in principle to OSS over proprietary software. This would cover both the principles (why OSS) as well as practical issues of adoption/migration (migration paths, options, case studies of migration, FAQs etc). This helps people/institutions to move from 'awareness' to 'commitment'. Given the compelling advantages of OSS, invariably awareness leads to commitment over time.

3. Helping people/institutions who are convinced about the imperative for public institutions to adopt OSS, to migrate to OSS. There would be technical support teams at the workshop, who would help migrate participants computers and notebooks to public software applications, wholly or partly.

The workshop was attended by around 25 people from educational institutions and government. This workshop is one of the first of a series of workshops being organized throughout India on OSS in education. The long-term vision for the CSOs organizing the workshop is the fact that public institutions like schools exist to promote the public good. In keeping with such basic principles, the technology choice of these institutions needs to clearly favor the collaborative, community-driven model of OSS over proprietary software.

As someone interested in seeing OSS become popular in education, I hope to see more such collaborations among CSOs in India. Given the vast geography and the huge student population of India, outreach is a major challenge. The only way to build a scalable outreach program is through sharing and replicating training materials, software and best practices among CSOs working on in the education sector. OSS and open content licenses like Creative Commons offer the best possible framework for such sharing. It is also important that CSOs like IT For Change and Knowledge Commons that have the technical capabilities work in partnership with CSOs like Digantar that have deep expertise and credibility within the education sector, to make OSS deployments in education successful. The Jaipur workshop hosted by Digantar was a great start, but, (to paraphrase the poet, Robert Frost), “there are miles to go before we sleep.”


Venkatesh Hariharan is Corporate Affairs Director (Asia-Pacific) at Red Hat. In this role, he works with industry, academia, government and the community to accelerate the growth of the global open source movement. In 2006, he was awarded the "Indian Open Source Personality of the Year" by the organizers of Linux Asia 2006.


Many CSOs are seen working on FOSS and some on education.
There are many different strands. Here there are two concerns; FOSS and Education. One can argue that the two are related, intertwined and hence must be seen together. The interests and domain knowledge among people are spread over a range from Pure FOSS, plain 'Open source', 'free software' to better ( access,excellence, expansion) education. A major constituency , i.e parents, particularly from the underprivileged, non-english , who could really benefit , are MILES away. The hardware vendors, whose interests could be , arguably, aligned with FOSS have been largely cornered by proprietary software vendors with better 'marketing' .
Is there a single CSO that can see the value of bringing together these different strands, coalesce the forces and present a good alternative in the media?

Hi Venky,

I have been working for GOI and have developed few web apps. i find it very difficult to explain the use of IT and web. The officials are reluctant and not ready to accept the new technology. We just say and see that we do have the technology in place but it's hardly been used.

Someone should really take some strict action and get IT actually implemented in all Sectors.

If done in Education it will be a boon.

Its nice to know that we have few people around who see future of open source in education space. If you have dived deep into schools curriculum, you will realise that the entire computer learning revolves around MS-Office and this is where Microsoft make huge money. I have been going around in schools for quite some time now and some of the schools have 500 PC running MS-Office. If the purpose of computer education is only making students computer literate, than why OSS community is not pushing Open-office in Microsoft/Linux platform which will not only help schools save lot of money but will also have teachers adopting platform easy.

Hello Rajeshwarji,

I completely agree... I would like to share a recent incident on this..

My father is at a managerial post in an educational organization and I was asked to provide IT consultancy to a School of their organization.

They had a requirement to set up a computer lab for the students Approx. 20 PC.

When I proposed them the configuration and required softwares the MS-Office cost went up to Just Rs.1.2 L which they refused to spend on... and then Open Office struct me and I had Installed it on every PC. They were Happy to hear about OSS Community and were very touch that student can learn without spending much...

Since then I decided that I will surely promote OSS community and it's initiative every way possible.

There is an urgent need to 'market' open source software in India.

There is a need for open source users to promote open source in their work and social environment.

Unfortunately, even our education system ties down the kids to proprietary softwares. CBSE, AICTE and other education regulators do not favor use of open source, and the syllabus prescribed by them is a proof of this.

Similarly, a large number of government tenders favor proprietary softwares.

And use of open source will save India hundreds of crores which we can use for better healthcare.

Educational system in kerala and literacy rate of Kerala are found to be more because,even in Board exam Moderation and C.E marks are given.Gradeing system is a curse for the Eduactional system in Kerala.It makes the student who got 100% and 90% equal as A+ holders.The contend of the book is very less and is full of questions.The Govt of kerala keep changing the Educational The educational system in Keala is based on Quantity not on Quality .Kerala is Producing Literate illiterrates.Proper sex education is not given in kerala...
Student Teacher ratio shold be maintanined as15:1.Some students finf govt schools as a means of getting foood so they come to have mid day meal.
Projects like "Antae Maram" & "Antae Mannu" etc makes students away from studies...So the Educational system in kerala is a kind of failure

The education system of Kerala is much better than (overall) other states. Graduates and master degree holders from TN can't even speak English and communicate well. The IT@school project is a very successful project and much appreciated worldwide. If the education system is poor, how keralites can easily find job in major companies within India and overseas?

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