Wednesday, February 4, 2009
Product Endorsements in Schools
The Microsoft Office suite is omnipresent in nearly every school that uses computers. Considering how technology integration has grown so popular in recent years, PowerPoint and typed documents are a daily occurrence, making it a rare occurrence to find a teenager without his own computer. This has grown to the point where pencil and paper have been rendered near obsolete.
Despite the clear benefits that tech-based education has brought to schools, using such software has brought many restrictions and limitations to the students. For example, teachers will demand that assignments be submitted only in .doc or .ppt formats. As harmless this may seem, this alienates those who do not have such software, widens the gap between the "haves" and the "have nots", places families in financial turmoil in sticky situations and forces students to buy a product.
I oppose product advocacy by independent institutions in all forms, and while I understand that MS Office is the most popular office suite, I continue to have the feeling that education has sold out. In many ways, monopolies assemble themselves in the software industry. A popular product grows in popularity not because of its innovation and features, but because people need to have the same stuff that others have in order to communicate with each other. To see that your files that work at school are completely useless at home forces people to use the same software that thy use at school at home. Thus, in order to succeed in school, you must purchase a computer and run certain types of software. Marketing doesn't help Microsoft, schools do.
The government is not helping either, considering that the archives of the U.S. Census Bureau are available only in .doc or .pdf formats, just viewing government documents forces you to use certain kinds of software. Significantly reducing your freedom to use obscure pieces of software when you want to learn more about your own nation.
Using FOSS Office Suites like OpenOffice.org significantly reduces the hassles brought by using MS Office software at schools and government projects because it is consumer-neutral, free and open. As innocent as using a certain type of software at a public computer may seem, having students using certain products remains highly undesirable.