Free and Open Source Software is a boon to educational institutions. It is cheaper and virus-resistant, and most importantly, a virus attack can be solved immediately by programmers worldwide.

E-learning or computer-based learning is an innovative method that has been touted by educationists worldwide as the future of learning. Yet, the idea has failed to gain momentum in India. Now, free software could make e-learning more accessible and easy for students in the country.

Not to be confused with freeware, Free Open Source Software (FOSS) programmes are sold or shared along with their source code, unlike proprietary software.

The availability of the source code, which is the skeleton of the programme, empowers the user to modify the programme as per his or her wishes.

A range of educational FOSS programmes on all subjects are already available for sale. For example, Geogebra, as the name suggests, is used to teach geometry to students. PyMol, which generates 3D images of molecules of atoms and chemical reactions is useful for teaching chemistry to students through visual aids.

Yet another programme is Stellarium, which can be used to teach astronomical phenomena such as rotation and revolution, discarding the use of bulky models of planets and solar systems.

In the case of primary school children, learning is encouraged in the form of games. However, these games may become mundane after a short period of time.

“Instead of waiting for companies to release newer versions of games, free software games can be easily tweaked for children so as to hold their interest,” says Bharathi Subramaniam, a member of the Indian Linux Users Group (ILUG) which is a non-profit organisation dedicated to promoting free software.

But who would modify the programme for someone with limited knowledge of programming language?

“There are many programmers on online forums who are willing to modify software for free or for a reasonable fee. ILUG itself has a forum for this purpose on its website (www.ilugc.in),” says Sri Ramadoss, another ILUG member.

The most basic advantage of FOSS over proprietary software for educational institutions is that they are much cheaper.

Some of them are also available free of charge. FOSS is also more virus-resistant, compared to proprietary software. In the unlikely event of a virus attack, a patch can be released immediately by programmers worldwide rather than waiting for the company to release one. This comes as a boon for the many students who spend a considerable amount of their time online.

Anna University courses

Realising the potential of FOSS, Anna University has introduced two elective courses in FOSS for students of IT, MCA and Computer Science Engineering. The National Research Centre for Free and Open Source Software (NRCFOSS), a Ministry of IT-funded project, is planning to offer certificate courses in FOSS competency to interested people. Jaya Engineering College in Thiruvallur has even set up a FOSS club. “We teach students to use Linux and programming languages like Python. They are also encouraged to do their projects using free software,” says Prof. M. Kumaran, Head of the Jaya FOSS Club.

Access Linux User Group at: www.ilugc.in