School reorganisation: When will we have bona fide public policies in favour of Free Software and for the citizens of tomorrow?
Paris, 19 June 2013. Press release.
On 25 June 2013, the French Senate will probably vote in favour of the present version of the bill for “Reorganisation of public schools”. This would bury the provision prioritising Free Software in the future “Public Service for Digital Education”, contrary to what that same Senate introduced at first reading. The bill also fails to set up a true curriculum in computer science, even though it has become crucial that IT be taught to every student as an integral part of the general background knowledge.
At first reading of the bill on public schools' reorganisation (Refondation de l'école de la République, in French), the Senate had voted for a provision which gave priority to Free Software and open formats in the future “Public Service for Digital Education” (Article 10, paragraph 7)
“This public service prioritises the use of Free Software and open document formats.”
Unfortunately, most probably yielding to pressure from Afdel (French Association of Software and Internet Solutions vendors — a lobby created in 2005 by Microsoft and a small group of French proprietary software vendors), Syntec Numérique and Afinef (French Trade Association for Digital Education and Training) 1 the Government introduced an amendment which watered down the provision. It was voted by the National Assembly at second reading.
After adoption of the governmental amendement, paragraph 7 became:
“In the context of this public service, determining the choice of resources to be used takes into consideration Free Software and open format documents on offer, if there are any.”
On 18 June, the Senate Committee on culture, education and communication announced (in French) its adoption of the bill as it was after its second reading at the National Assembly, and recommended to vote in favour of that same text on 25 June 2013, at the plenary session of the Senate.
So, the Senate Committee's statement actually buries the prioritisation of Free Software and open formats in the future Public Service for Digital Education, and replaces it with a meaningless and useless provision.
“Once again, the private interest of some companies supersedes general interest. Once again, the Government misses the opportunity to phase out the dependence of the educational system on a few monopolistic corporations. Once more, the students are viewed as consumers of digital products,” denounces Jeanne Tadeusz, Public Affairs Officer at April.
Moreover, the bill misses the opportunity of making computer science education a part of the general curriculum. Let us recall that the French Academy of Sciences, in its May 2013 report L'enseignement de l'informatique en France - Il est urgent de ne plus attendre (IT education in France: it is vital not to wait anymore), states that it is in favour of IT education for all junior high and high school students, and of awareness classes in grammar schools. Another relevant reading is the interview of Jean-Pierre Archambault, President of the non-profit organisation “Enseignement public et informatique” (IT in Public Education) and of Rémi Boulle, the Vice-President of April in charge of education (in French).
“The rejection of an amendment on IT education locks us into a ‘B2i approach’2 that educates passive consumers rather than the potentially creative citizens of tomorrow,” says Rémi Boulle.
In spite of the press release from the Committee, it seems obvious that the overloaded parliamentary agenda has something to do with the text being voted without modifications, and with the resulting termination of the legislative process on this bill. We sorely regret that there was no debate at the Senate about the withdrawal of the priority given to Free Software.
To justify its amendment, the Government claims that giving priority to Free Software could raise legal issues. We cannot foresee how such a provision could be a problem at the European level. Italy for example has already implemented a very similar provision. In a letter dated 5 June 2013, April's president requested that the National Education Minister share with us his analysis proving the existence of those legal difficulties. We did not receive it yet.
April, meanwhile, as it already did in September 2012, calls on the Government to transpose and implement the guiding principles stated in Prime Minister Ayrault's order on the use of Free Software within all ministries services and administrations
For instance, in order to enable the local governments to work more easily toward spreading the use of Free Software, the Ministry of Education should amend its academic prescriptions to school boards. Most of the time, those recommendations are followed to the letter by local procurement services, whether regional, departmental or communal. It is thus crucial to ensure that recommendations clearly favour free software solutions.
“Encouraging the preferential use of Free Software, especially in education, was one of François Hollande's presidential campaign commitments3. We urge the Government to act in accordance with the words from the President, and to implement bona fide public policies in favour of Free Sofware,” says Frédéric Couchet, executive director of April.
Of course, our organisation is at the Ministry's service for any further questions.
Pioneer of Free Software in France, April is since 1996 a major player in the democratisation and the spread of Free Software and open standards to the general public, professionals and institutions in the French-speaking world. In the digital era that is ours, it also aims to inform the public on the dangers of an exclusive appropriation of information an knowledge by private interests.
The association has over 5,000 members, using or producing Free Software.
On this topic:
- Education: the French Senate requests priority to Free Software and open formats in the “Public Service for Digital Education”
- The French Government refuses to give priority to Free Software in the future “Public Service for Digital Education”
- (FR) Logiciel libre et école : qui parle pour les entreprises de l'open source? (Free Software in schools: who speaks for Open Source businesses?)
- (FR) Revue de presse sur l’anesthésie de la priorité au libre pour l’éducation (Press review on the anaesthesia of Free Software priority in education)
- 2. B2i stands for Brevet informatique et internet, a junior-high-level exam on basic uses of a home computer.
- 3. In April 2013, François Hollande's answer to the National Council of Free Software was that, in the IT field, the State should work toward “agile, rather than large, expensive, compartmentalised projects,” stressing that “Free Software allows for more resource sharing and encourages competition among external suppliers.”. About education specifically, he stated the following: “I hope that high quality Free Software, using standardised open formats, will be taught from schools and universities, and that its use will be given priority in all exams, both for office applications and for scientific, technical or documentary uses”.