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The Role of Free Software in Education

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On 19 September, we celebrate Software Freedom Day. At tomorrow's Boston gathering, I will have an opportunity to thank the Free Software Foundation on behalf of Sugar Labs for their support. I will also have a chance to tell the story of Sugar, our efforts to help children learn to learn and learn to love and exercise their freedom. I will also solicit your help.

The usual argument for basic education is economic: the premise is that investment in human resources results in improved productivity.

“Those investigators who have used learning outcomes as their measure of education — literacy, numeracy, science knowledge — have found robust connections between education and economic growth.” – Rationale for Public Investments in Primary Education in Developing Countries, World Bank report [PDF]

Thomas Jefferson had a more fundamental rationale for basic education:

I think by far the most important bill in our whole code is that for the diffusion of knowledge among the people. No other sure foundation can be devised for the preservation of freedom and happiness... The tax which will be paid for this purpose is not more than the thousandth part of what will be paid to kings, priests and nobles who will rise up among us if we leave the people in ignorance. – Thomas Jefferson to George Wythe (1786)

To Jefferson, education “enables every man to judge for himself what will secure or endanger his freedom.” Each of us are the “ultimate guardians of own liberty.”

Almost 200 years later, Jean Piaget said “only education is capable of saving our societies from possible collapse, whether violent, or gradual.” Learning is necessary to preserve freedom. This assertion begs the question: Is freedom necessary to preserve learning?

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