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Tertiary Institutions in Jamaica should use more Open Source

Reference: Expensive accounting software may be replaced with open source alternatives.

Hi, welcome to another post in the series where I’m preaching the gospel of Open Source Software (OSS) to my fellow Jamaicans and today the focus is on Tertiary education. Tertiary institutions across the globe have been utilising Open Source to drive research and innovation. I believe that our local tertiary institutions should follow suit and become even more involved in this global shift in education, research and development.

 

In this post, we will be talking about the ways in which local universities may use OSS to operate more efficiently. Open Source has as unique advantage in offering benefits to not only the institution but also to the students and other relevant stakeholders. From my perspective these benefits based on three important pillars of open source: cost reduction, improved flexibility and community development software. In light of our current challenge (high cost of tertiary education), I do hope that OSS will become even more appealing solution. So let us focus on the main benefits as to why our universities should be using more OSS.

Benefits – “No Linga”

Saves Money: “A nuh bag juice money run college” – Tertiary institutions are costly. Even though they are being heavily subsidised by the government to the tune of  $13.4 B-b-billion dollars (aka taxpayers money) they are still in need of necessary funds which are sourced from grants and student fees. Open source could help reduce operational cost by:

  • Installing open source operating systems on computers used by students. This will remove the yearly license fee cost imposed by propitiatory software.
  • Utilize other open source tools such as word processing software. My previous post made a few suggestion or you can check out UWI’s OSS stack.
  • Expensive accounting software may be replaced with open source alternatives.
  • The network may be run on open source software.

 

Information Sharing and Learning Enhanced: The main aim of OSS is to foster growth through community development software through information sharing and at the university level, there is no exception to that rule. Here are a few Open Source tools which are currently be used in this regard:

  • Moodle (used by  UTECH)
  • On a national level: Open data portal which is owned and operated by the government
    • Thanks to Mr Julian Robinson (former S.E.T minister)
    • Thanks to Hon. Andrew Wheatley (Min. of S.E.T)
    • Thanks to the S.E.T and to all the Techies who worked to make this a reality (I salute you)
  • On a national level: Jamaica Library Service, Koha

I am sure there are other open source tools being deployed that are geared towards information sharing. Please share, I’d be happy to hear about them.

Student Benefits: Apart from the cost benefits, students enrolled are able to reap additional benefits in this regards. To be more specific, students pursuing computer science related students will benefit from the usage of open source in the following ways:

  • Allow students to have great access to the source code of the tools they are using. This encourages a more hands-on approach to its inner workings.
  • Students innovate and be more motivated to solve problems facing the institutions. From my personal experience at UTECH, I’ve noticed that many ideas failed to bear fruit mainly because of red tapes (license agreements and propitiatory software). I suppose other universities are having similar challenges.
  • Open source gives members the opportunity to not only learn in a community setting but to also contribute.

Jamaica Benefits: I envision a Jamaica where we are using more open source technology to drive growth and reduce cost. A country where individuals use open source to innovate and solve some of our main challenges. This is not a “pipe dream” as other countries have done it already, take for example France, Norway, United States, Brazil and Cuba.

 

Yes Cuba, our neighbours, created an operating system called Nova and yes this was developed by university and their students, University of Information Science (UCI). Furthermore, Cuba is now assembling laptops. I’m pretty sure their open source initiative played a GREAT role preparing their citizen for such an investment. Congratulations Cuba and I thank you for being the light of the Caribbean as it relates to Open Source.

 

Just take a second and internalise how open source allow a university to create an operating system and tweak it to their liking.

So do you now understand my dream? Do you now see the opportunities?

My Personal Take

So the main question you may ask is, being that OSS is so good why aren’t we seeing more of it?

Well, on a yearly basis graduates matriculates into the working world and they bring with them skills and knowledge which were taught at university. As it relates to tools and technology the same can be said – to some extent. Take for example the popularity of Microsoft Office suit and the level of exposure to those tools during their studies. This therefore shows that people are more comfortable with tools they are familiar with.

I believe the same approach should be applied to Open Source. This will increasing the level of exposure to students, especially IT engineers. Not only will this result in an increase in the level of innovation by students but this will also reduce the cost of providing higher education while simultaneous ridding the system of the unnecessary red-tapes – stifling innovation. Just imagine the benefits for the future generation. So let us embrace open source technology and the many benefits it offers – Ubuntu (African translation) I am what I am because we are.

Feel free to share your thoughts and feedback. Thanks.

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Hi there, I'm a Software Engineer, Administrator & advocate for Jamaica Cultural Alliance, and a local farmer. Always questioning the status quo in search of better alternatives. Motto: "Love your life perfect your life, beautify all things in your life - Tecumseh" Favourite slangs: "At least am alive" & "Bless up"

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One Response to "Tertiary Institutions in Jamaica should use more Open Source"

  1. Captain Kirk says:

    I like that an article was written to highlight the benefits of using open source in tertiary education. However, I don’t believe we as Jamaicans fully grasp the concept of ‘free’ software. Compounding this ignorance is the fact that even IT Engineers will fall prey to vendor specific technologies though investing 3-4 years learning and using open source technologies. For example, an aspiring web developer in college decides to learn Gimp to create his/her website mockups and high fidelity designs, only to realize that all job posting require Photoshop knowledge and experience. Until the world cuts its ties from Microsoft, I’m afraid only open source advocates and enthusiasts will fully appreciate the concept of open source. And besides, if it ain’t broke, why fix it? Our CXC exams test our skills in productive tools, specifically Microsoft. How can we manage the change from Microsoft to say Open Office at the college level? Some students will protest harder than how Portia Simpson-Miller was beaten in the recent elections. As a nation we can start students in primary school to utilize open source operating systems, however, this comes down to political will and parental influence. My humble suggestion, let those who want to tinker, tinker and innovate, while the remainder utilize whatever they are accustomed to. Trying to convince Jamaican universities to fully embrace open source in my opinion is an effort in futility even if the pathway is lined with gold. BTW, Germany switched back to Microsoft after years of using open source.

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