Tech corporations are taking over the field of education by pushing their proprietary products into educational institutions of all levels. Proprietary applications loaded with malicious functionalities such as surveillance and collection of sensitive personal data—among many others—are being imposed on schools’ staff, teachers, students, and even parents. With the rapid expansion of online teaching, these proprietary educational technologies not only spread dramatically across schools, but they went from the classroom to the home.
This is not to say that educational technology is a bad approach per se. The problem arises when the software used in EdTech is nonfree, meaning it denies students the rights that free software grants all users.
Nonfree EdTech fails to assist the learning process by forbidding students to study the programs they are required to use, thus opposing the very nature and purpose of education. It does not allow school administrators and teachers to safeguard students’ rights by forbidding them to inspect the source code of the programs they run. It does not enable parents to make sure their children are protected from surveillance, data collection, and other mistreatment by the owner of the proprietary program.
Proprietary video conferencing software, as well as other nonfree programs, are tethered to online dis-services that collect large amounts of personal data. The school may have to agree to the company’s unjust terms of dis-service. The school, in turn, will typically force students to create an account on the dis-service, which includes agreeing to the terms.
EdTech companies are already developing great power over the students in the schools where they operate, and it will get worse. They use their surveillance power to manipulate students by customizing learning materials in the same way they customize ads and pieces of news. This way, they direct students into tracks towards various levels of knowledge, power and prestige.
These companies also structure their terms and conditions so that they are never held responsible for the consequences.
This article argues that these companies should get licenses to operate. That wouldn’t hurt, but it doesn’t address the root of the problem. All data acquired in a school about any student, teacher, or employee, must not leave the school’s control: whatever computers store the data must belong to the school and run free software. That way the school district and/or parents can control what it does with those data.
Join us in the fight against the use of nonfree software in schools.