Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Blog Action Day: Free to Combat Poverty

Today is Blog Action Day. It's a day when bloggers, podcasters and other digital communicators come together to examine, discuss, and post on a single issue. By uniting, we hope to draw attention to an important topic and ultimately generate a global discussion. Last year, the blogosphere addressed the Environment.

This year the theme is Poverty. In an effort to heighten awareness of this issue within the context of education and instructional technology, I'd like to suggest that administrators, media specialists, teachers, paraprofessionals, pupils, parents, and community members use free resources to help the impoverished. Why?

First of all, free resources cost nothing. To struggling learners who have little or no money to invest in expensive software packages, free is a godsend. Not having to make choices between learning 21st Century skills and going hungry is a blessing. Being able to do word processing, use spreadsheets, and create digital presentations for the purpose of education without the necessity of parting with funds that can be allocated toward shelter, health care, and food is helpful to those in need. There are so many ways students can learn using free software.

Secondly, free resources promote liberty as much as they do financial freedom. Using free software allows everyone--not just the poor--to make political and ethical choices affirming one's right to learn. When users have that ability they are more able and apt to share what's being learned. The Free Software Foundation underscores this sentiment in its work.

Note: Free software--truly free software (according to Richard Stallman)--should give users the ability to:
  • run an application for any purpose,
  • study and modify a program,
  • copy a program so one can help others and,
  • improve a program, and release improvements to the public, so that the whole community benefits from the enhancements.

Next, there are many, many free, high quality digital learning tools available. For school systems who want to help the poor, there are a number of excellent resources that can easily be made accessible to those who desperately need them. Rather than invest an inordinate amount of funding for commercial, machine-based, suite software, school districts can receive Google Apps Education Edition services without paying a penny. If access to the internet is a problem, Open Office can be used instead. Money that might have been spent on commercial products could be redirected to other, more powerful ways to assist pupils from impoverished homes. Rather than continually paying high fees for operating systems, schools can use resources like Edubuntu.

Finally, free resources extend the potential for learning. Schools can take computers that may have otherwise been surplussed or sent a landfill, wipe the harddrive, install a free Linux-based operating system like Ubuntu, Edubuntu, Puppy Linux, or the like and loan (or give) poor students hardware that can be used outside of school. Outdated laptops and desktops can find new life by way of free resources and help needy young men and women hone 21st Century skills in the bargain!

What are your ideas for alleviating poverty? Please post a comment here and share your insights with the world.

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