So you thought that that the South Africa government had a policy which stated that where free and open source software exists for a particular purpose it should be the preferred option for official business? Yeah, well, take that policy, because a circular put out by the Department of Basic Education, which was flagged up on Twitter and Slashdot yesterday, says otherwise.
Apparently, as of next year, only Microsoft Office 2010 and 2013 will be acceptable for school use in Computer Applications Technology (CAT) lessons. While other subjects will be free to use LibreOffice, Open Office or any other office office they choose, computer science students will apparently have to use the one program that they can’t learn anything from for coursework and exams.
There’s no evidence that it’s related, but Microsoft has been working closely with South African educators in recent months through its 4Afrika intiative, and has been accused in the past of undermining the FOSS policy laid down by SITA in 2007.
The government policy clearly states:
OSS offers significant indirect advantages. Where the direct advantages and disadvantages of OSS and PS (Proprietary Software) are equally strong, and where circumstances in the specific situation do not render it inappropriate, opting for OSS will be preferable.
According to the same circular, a quietly raging battle to get Python implemented as the programming language of choice across the whole country has also been lost. As of January 2015, all Grade 11 IT students in the country will have to learn Delphi as the programming language of choice.All exam tasks will be set using Delphi by 2016.
Delphi was previously used by schools in Gauteng and four other provinces, while the Western Cape and KZN preferred to teach Java. Settling on Delphi, a Pascal derivative which is slowly fading into obscurity, seems like an odd choice given the huge number of jobs out there for kids with Java skills for mobile development.
Dr Derek Keats, who brought this issue to international attention via his blog points out that: “The decision to implement Delphi is a bit like mandating Latin as the language for literature”.
Others, however, maintain that Delphi is a good language to teach programming skills, but then latin has its defenders too. Over on Twitter, professional developer @settface reckons that “being taught in Delphi did me more harm than good“. He goes on to point out that this moves flies in the face of best practice elsewhere in the world, where low cost computers like Raspberry Pi and languages like Python are making computing fun for learners again.
The real question, though, is why are computer science kids being forced to use Office? I’ll be following up on this later this week.
The full CAT curriculum is here, and the chapter on learning outcomes starts on page 20, and covers basic spreadsheet work, word processing and commuinications. There’s nothing in here that would suggest Office is essential and should be preferred over open source software under the terms of the 2007 mandate.
(Image from Catbirding Greece – it’s the Oracle at Delphi, of course. Slightly more modern than the programming language that takes its name.)