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In bed with Microsoft

The framework for Key Stage 3 ICT is a very wonderful collection of teaching units.  Taken literally it would mean the government dictating every minute of every lesson for every pupil in the country.  However there is a little get-out clause in each document saying that the same objectives can be achieved by other methods and the ludicrously -detailed lesson plans can be adapted to local circumstances.

Perhaps the worst feature of the framework is the overdependence on Microsoft Corporation.  The result for many pupils will be "death by powerpoint" with the overly-prescriptive framework telling them how to produce "perfect presentations" using the Microsoft product with no mention of the many alternatives which exist.  Some schools have even been encouraged to produce websites using powerpoint which is akin to making toast with a cigarette lighter!

The web is the part of computing where Microsoft decidedly *does not* rule.  Yet the framework gives detailed guidance on how to make a website with the second-worst possible software, Front Page Express.and in case they cannot use that there are additional worksheets on how to use the worst which is the wordprocessor "Word" which is also made by Microsoft.

The framework  is an uninterrupted paean of praise for Microsoft's products. The argument used is that because Microsoft is so widespread there is no need for students to know about any other system. It is fine for a substantial chunk of the educational budget to be handed over to the fat cats of this global corporation while the government lavishes free advertising on them at our expense.  One New Labour apologist used the argument "The world belongs to Microsoft" - this is beyond satire - you couldn't make it up!

This is in any case a fake argument. Microsoft may appear all-poweful now. IBM once was. Schools could have ignored anything which was not IBM “because pupils would never need it in the real world” and be left looking pretty stupid now. Pupils who can only use Microsoft taught by teachers who can only use Microsoft is Bill Gates' wet dream but it is an educational nightmare.

I use Microsoft products when there is no alternative but usually there is an alternative product. I am not promoting any particular alternative but open source free software, such as Mozilla and Open Office, does not put a penny into the pockets of the corporations.

I downloaded Mozilla. It is free. It is a better program for editing web pages than the cumbersome Microsoft products recommended by the government. It does not require pupils to understand HTML - it teaches it to them. Pupils work on the text of the web page they want to produce and there is one tab which can show them how the html tags are being used in their text and another tab which shows them what the “raw” HTML looks like.

I downloaded Open Office. It took a long time to download but once downloaded I am using it now to produce a Word document which could be imported into Microsoft Word if necessary and this morning I used it to produce an Excel spreadsheet – and all without wasting public money – or my own for that matter – propping up Microsoft.

Open source software also has more educational value than Microsoft because pupils who want to know more about the software at any level can find out more without coming up against a brick wall of “business secrets” used by the corporations to protect themselves against rivals. More advanced students can even download the source code for the programs.

The websites of the open source projects referred to here are:

If this amount of product placement took place in a film it would be laughed out of the cinema.  The government has got into bed with Microsoft, but then they have gotten into bed with so many corporations.  There is a word for getting in to bed with a lot of dubious clients for money.and I am not at all sure it is the kind of thing we ought to be encouraging our pupils to do :)