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IT for Change requests AICTE: the agreement with Microsoft should be cancelled and replaced with relevant FOSS application(s)

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Prof. SS. Mantha,
Janpath, New Delhi 110001

Sub – AICTE-Microsoft agreement on compulsory use of Office 365 suite

Dear Prof. SS. Mantha,

We, the undersigned, understand from the notification http://www.aicte-india.org/downloads/AICTE_notice%20_3_.pdf that AICTE is compelling technical institutions all over the country to use Office 365, a proprietary software product from Microsoft.

We feel it is critical to promote the use of Free and Open Source Software (FOSS) applications in education, and avoid proprietary applications for important pedagogical and political reasons as follows:

1. Freedom to share and customise learning resources is a foundational principle in education

The use of digital learning resources (content) and digital learning software tools/ processes (software applications), needs to be in line with established curricular principles. An important principle in education is that curricular resources need to be publicly owned, so that they are freely available to teachers and students without restrictions. Proprietary software is prohibited by the vendor, from being studied or shared or modified, using both legal (licensing) and technological (hiding the source code) means. It forces the teacher and the student to be a ‘mere user’; treating these resources as a ‘given’. It does not allow the needed experimentation, collaborative construction, and local/ contextual enhancement of learning processes; important new opportunities offered by digital technologies, required to meet the constructivist learning ideals aspired for by numerous curricular policy documents. Thus the use of proprietary software is detrimental to this foundational educational principle and AICTE primarily being an academic institution needs to conform to the same.

2. Technical education as the crucible for learning about ICTs
The above principle is particularly critical in the technical education space, where students and teachers need to be able to freely experiment and customise/modify digital resources to develop and deepen their understanding of these technical areas, instead of merely being ‘users’ of closed software applications. An automobile engineer needs to be able to open the parts of a automobile and learn how these parts work / interact, and not merely to ‘use’ the different features of an automobile. Likewise, any student of software engineering, needs to be able to study source code and also make modifications/customisations as an integral part of his/her learning. Such a study is prohibited by proprietary software.

3. Rich learning environment using public educational software tools
There are public software applications (which by virtue of public ownership are freely shareable and customisable) for all areas where proprietary software applications have been used. At a systemic level, public software has very successful been used in “ICT@schools” program of Kerala, which is now being emulated in Karnataka,  Gujarat, Haryana and other states in India. Instead of using a single proprietary application, a rich learning environment is created by using multiple FOSS tools in any domain, (which all conform to open standards to allow inter-operability of documents). Using multiple applications will help the learner master various aspects of the  domain, instead of equating the domain with just a single application (which of course dominant proprietary software vendors would strongly promote, this being in their best commercial interests).

4. Harmful systemic effects of proprietary software
Teachers, colleges and the entire public education system become dependant on the vendor for modifications, enhancements, customisations or localizations (including creating local language versions) to these tools, and have no right to modify or freely share these resources with one another. The agreement would promote vendor lock-in at a systemic level, and would be against the public interest.

5. Potential loss of sovereignty
The political implications of using proprietary software of a US company can also not be ignored, especially in the context of the US legislature considering the CISPA act, which requires US companies to collaborate with US Government in capturing and and sharing digital information for their political and economic goals. The Government of India apparently is studying the use of telecommunications equipment manufactured by Chinese companies from this perspective, andsuch dangers need not be limited to that country alone.

6. Waste of scarce public funds
Proprietary software applications lock-in users into their proprietary standards. These applications are also expensive. While FOSS equivalent to these applications is easily available, free to share and free of cost. Periodic upgrades of FOSS applications are also free, whereas each upgrade of proprietary software typically would need to be paid for. Thus procuring proprietary software is a unecessary waste of scarce public funds. There cannot be any justification to use proprietary software when publicly owned alternatives are available and used by millions all over the world.

Given these pedagogical, political and economic considerations, Government of India has supported the adoption of FOSS through various policy pronouncements.

7. Government policy support for the adoption of FOSS.
7.1 National Policy on ICTs in education
The National Policy on ICTs in education, which was accepted by CABE in June 2012, clearly emphasises the need to adopt FOSS applications in education, as well as free and open learning resources to create a collaborative and creative ecosystem. The use of proprietary software, by forbidding sharing and co- creating, clearly harms the possibilities of such a free and open ecosystem. The policy says “A software environment favouring a pedagogy of learning which promotes active learning, participatory and collaborative practices and sharing of knowledge is essential to nurture a creative society. Free and Open Source Software – operating system and
software applications will be preferred in order to expand the range of learning, creation and sharing.”

7.2 Open standards in eGovernance
Recognising the dangers from proprietary/ closed standards, the DIT, Government of India has notified, in November 2010, the policy on Open standards in eGovernance in which it has mandated that office documents should be shared only in the ODF format (.odt/.ods/.odp which are the native formats used by openoffice/libreoffice, both free office suite software applications) and not in proprietary formats (.docx/.xlsx/.pptx) used by Microsoft office. AICTE approval handbook (page 114), itself supports FOSS and this agreement thus violates AICTEs’ own policy as well as national policies.

In addition, the use of publicly owned software has other important advantages:

  1. Since publicly owned software applications are free to procure and share, the costs of using freely shareable software applications would be much lower specially for implementing at a large scale, where the necessary support systems are feasible to build. An IIM-Bangalore study estimate that on a conservative basis, India would save 20,000 crores each year by adopting FOSS.
  2. The free GNU/Linux operating system is virus-resistant and this can hugely reduce maintenance and support efforts and resources. A large number of computers in educational institutions tend to remain unused due to virus issues and using GNU/Linux would increase infrastructure availability.
  3. A large number of educational software applications can be bundled free with the GNU/Linux operating system which means they can be available to teachers and institutions schools in a simple single installation process. These includes applications relevant to technical institutions including tools for programming, video/audio/image editing, publishing etc

The agreement may pertain to the use of Office 365 primarily for administrative functions, yet within an academic institution, the software use should be aligned to its basic philosophies of working. Under these circumstance, we request that the agreement with Microsoft should be cancelled and replaced with relevant FOSS application(s).
We look forward to your response and to further discussing this important issue.

Yours truly,
Signatories (PTO)
May 1, 2013
Copy : Minister for Education, MHRD, Government of India
Secretary for Education, MHRD, Government of India.

Enclosed –

  1. National Policy on ICTs in education, March 2012 (excerpt)
  2. (Available on: http://www.itforchange.net/sites/default/files/ITfC/revised_policy%20document%20ofICT.pdf)

  3. Policy on open standards in e-governance, DIT, GoI
    (Available on: http://egovstandards.gov.in/review-documents/public-review/IFEG-Phase-I/Draft_for_public_review____Report_PhaseI_v_0_6_2010Nov23.pdf)
  4. Cispa bill on cyber security passed by the US House, http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/technology-22213379

List of Signatories

  1. Alex M George, Education Researcher, Bangalore
  2. Amman Madan, Azim Premji University, Bangalore
  3. Amit Dhakulkar, Homi Bhabha Centre for Science Education, TIFR
  4. Anil K Gupta, Indian Institute of Management, Ahmedabad and Co-ordinator, SRISTI and Honey Bee Network
  5. Anita Rampal, Central Institute of Education, Delhi University, Delhi
  6. Anjali Noronha, Ekalavya, Hoshangabad
  7. Anusha Ramanathan, University of Mumbai
  8. Anvar Sadath, Kerala
  9. Archana Mehandale, Independent Researcher – Education
  10. Chandita Mukherjee, Comet Media Foundation, Mumbai
  11. Farida Abdulla Khan, Department of Educational Studies, Jamia Millia Islamia
  12. Geeta Nambissan, Zakir Hussain Centre for Educational Studies, Jawaharlal Nehru University
  13. Geetha Narayanan, Srishti School of Art, Design and Technology, Bangalore
  14. Gopakumar Thampi, Bangalore
  15. Gurumurthy Kasinathan, IT for Change, Bangalore
  16. Gurveen Kaur, Centre for Learning, Hyderabad
  17. Hriday Kant Dewan, Vidya Bhavan Society, Udaipur
  18. Jacob Tharu, formerly at Central Institute of English and Foreign Languages , Hyderabad
  19. Jayasree Subramnian, Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Hyderabad
  20. John Kurrien, Pune
  21. Kishore Darak, Researcher, Pune
  22. Kumara Swamy, DIET Lecturer, Mysore
  23. Nagarjuna.G.N, Tata Institute of Fundamental Research, Mumbai
  24. Nandini Manjrekar, Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Mumbai
  25. Padma Sarangapani, Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Hyderabad
  26. Poonam Batra, Maulana Azad Centre for Elementary and Social Education, Central Institute of Education, Delhi University
  27. R Ramanjunam, Institute of Mathematical Sciences, Chennai
  28. Ramagopal K, Centre for Learning, Hyderabad
  29. Ramakant Agnihotri, Vidya Bhavan Society, Udaipur
  30. Ravi Subramaniam, Homi Bhabha Centre for Science Education, Mumbai
  31. Rohit Dhankar, Digantar, Jaipur
  32. Sajan Venniyoor, New Delhi
  33. Saurav Shome, Homi Bhabha Centre for Science Education, Tata Institute of Fundamental Research, Mumbai
  34. Shesha Giri, UNICEF
  35. Snehal M. Shah, Mumbai University
  36. Srilatha Batliwala, Hauser Centre for non-profit organisations, Harvard University
  37. Sunil Batra, Centre for Education, Action and Research, New Delhi
  38. Suparna Diwakar, Bangalore
  39. Upendranadh, Action Aid, Bangalore
  40. Venkatesh Hariharan, Knowledge Commons
  41. Vijay Baskar, MIDS, Chennai
  42. Vinod Raina, BGVS
  43. Yemuna Sunny, Ekalavya, Hoshangabad
  44. Zakiya Kurrien, Pune
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