The French National Centre for Educational Resources, Microsoft's new showroom?
Paris, 12 March 2013. Press release.The CNDP (National Centre for Educational Resources), together with the “Café pédagogique” (Educational Café) is organising the “Digital Tour de France for Education”1. This series of events is officially defined as “a 20-legged tour of the French Hexagone aiming to discover the best digital projects serving education”, but actually is a promotional tour to the benefit of Microsoft, the sponsor of both the events and the Café pédagogique2. April and Framasoft request that this initiative be seriously amended, in order to make proper allowance for Free Software and free educational resources. Neither public servants —labelled as “innovative” by God-knows-whom— nor a public educational service can provide moral and pedagogical backing to an event which, as a side effect, will be instrumental in locking students and staff into a closed, proprietary ecosystem with the help of state money.
An unrealistic view of digital technologies in school
One of the major activities associated with those events will involve "demonstrations of the latest technological innovations: Windows 8 tablets, platforms for communication and collaboration (videoconference, chat, social networking, etc.), immersive viewing experience which takes advantage of new terminals such as the PixelSense table, etc."3 has the following: "Watch demonstrations of the latest technological innovations: Windows 8 tablets, platforms for communication and collaboration (videoconference, chat, social networking, etc.), immersive viewing experience which takes advantage of new terminals such as the PixelSense table, tools for class management…" Of course, all these tools are produced by the Microsoft Corporation. by Microsoft. Rather than demonstrating the various existing solutions, the events centre solely around a commercial exhibit of Microsoft products.
So, there is no room for free (as in freedom) educational software and resources, even though they are an integral part of education. Many teachers, non-profit organisations and companies develop free resources and software for education4. Despite concern expressed by a few people, showing the diversity of solutions doesn't seem to be a priority for these events.
Yet, the teaching community and the Éducation Nationale have much to gain from free software and resources. First, because the fundamental task of teachers is, by definition, based on the sharing of knowledge. In the best interest of his/her students, a teacher needs to be able to use, study and modify software and educational resources, and make them available to all. To make exchanges and resource sharing more fluid, open and interoperable formats are in order. The software and resources used in school need to be freely available for use at home, both by the students and their families. Freedom is key in this respect and, moreover, is in line with the founding values of the Republican school.
The model exhibited by this grand Tour, on the contrary, is based on restraint of innovation and outdated schemes relying on restrictive proprietary licences5, closed and proprietary formats, and even patents on knowledge. It is thus surprising and disturbing that the public service should act as a spokesperson of this one model, clearly excluding Free Software and free educational resources.
A major part of these events takes place in the CRDPs (Regional Centres for Educational Resources). Quite conveniently for Microsoft's marketing campaign, they are headed by personnel who often also acts as ICTE advisor6 to the head of the school board [recteur d'Académie]. Here is a good opportunity for Microsoft to demonstrate its products directly to the academic decision-makers in their own setting. Incidentally, Microsoft Education salesmen don't even hide; on one of the microblogging networks, what they wrote is readily visible: “Register now for one of our 21 legs!”7. You will note the possessive pronoun.
The Café Pédagogique, Microsoft's Trojan horse in education?
The April's education workgroup and Framasoft have long been concerned about the relationship between the Café Pédagogique and Microsoft 8. Let us recall that the Café Pédagogique acts as an information resource for a number of teachers, administrative officials and academic decision-makers9. However, one may be concerned about the bias in the information it spreads, especially in the ICT area. It is indeed clear that, since the website update by Microsoft10, the daily review of the Café Pédagogique hasn't cared much about the free software projects, numerous as they are, whereas it has been a showcase for the latest Microsoft products11.
According to Rémi Boulle, the Vice-President of April in charge of educational matters: “The Café Pédagogique and Microsoft don't own any monopoly on innovation in education. We cannot label a teacher as innovative simply because he/she uses a tablet under Windows 8 and is able to fill out a short application in Word format. On the contrary, we urgently need to define precisely what innovation and its goals are supposed to be: basic product advertising, or opening of new knowledge and opportunities to the students while developing their critical thinking?”
According to Alexis Kauffmann, of Framasoft: “The term ‘innovative teacher’ directly originates from Microsoft's ‘innovative teachers’ worldwide program12. The Café Pédagogique simply responded to the request of its generous sponsor by popularising the term, while taking good care to conceal its origin. The whole thing is only a give-and-take business between friends, unfortunately detrimental to the development of Free Software, open formats and free resources for education. This is why the SCÉRÉN CNDP should not roll out the red carpet13 to such a project, but rather take a critical look at the risk of commodifying education by proprietary software, its practices and its logics.”
April and Framasoft therefore ask the CNDP to stop this operation or, failing that, to seriously amend it so that proper allowance for Free Software and free educational resources is made.
Pioneer of Free Software in France, April is since 1996 a major player in the democratisation of Free Software and open standards, and their spread 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 and knowledge by private interests.
The organisation is non-profit and has over 4,000 members who use or produce Free Software.
With roots in the teaching community, Framasoft is a network of popular education dedicated mainly to Free Software. It is organised into three branches that collaborate toward (i) promoting, spreading and developing Free Software, (ii) enriching free culture and (iii) providing free (as in freedom) online services.
Alexis Kauffmann, Founder and Project Manager, firstname.lastname@example.org +33 6 95 01 04 55