What is Free Educational Content?
There is no need to explain the importance and meaning of Educational Content. The difference with existing systems is the special meaning of the word Free.
So what is the special meaning of Free?
The word Free is used in the same way as it is used in Free Software.
It is not about the fact that downloading is gratis, that is just a coincidence and a pleasant side effect. Creating it however can cost money.
Free is about freedom, about the freedom to copy it, study it, redistribute it and change it. A special license guarantees those freedoms.
Is this revolutionary?
Absolutely not. Through the history of mankind all innovations, inventions and all other creations of the mind are cumulative. We build further on the work of our precessors by adding a little effort every time, improving ideas, removing mistakes, make the structure more logical, etc.. It is very important for everybody, and in particular politicians, to understand that this principle brought us welfare and prosperity. This principle is simple and as old as mankind! It is certainly not a revolution.
How does it work?
This page is cumulative too. I, Wiebe, wrote this page and I invite you to change it, improve it. Maybe your English is better, maybe you feel the need to clarify some parts. Go ahead! Change it! But... You may not change the license of this page, we want to keep this page free as in freedom. See below. This is the same principle as with FLOSS (Free Libre Open Source Software). It is effcient and highly remunerative.
So I may do whatever I want with this text?
More or less: Yes! You may think it is strange you are free to copy this. The opposite is true, information is free, when you learned to walk, and to whistle, etc., by copying behaviour and knowledge from others, that information was free!
There are only a few exceptions to this rule (copyright, patents, trade marks,...). But some people want us to think that copying is a dirty word, that information should not be free, but owned as if information is like a house or a car. Obvious it gives power to software vendors, publishers and record labels. Don't believe their arguments in first instance, in general they don't act in your interest. You never steal ideas, you just use them without making known errors, you improve them. Hey, this is called evolution! By the way, when somebody says to you that you have stolen his idea, ask them where they did steal "their" idea... One final remark: we are not against copyright and patents. Sometimes they serve the society in an economical way, and then - only then - it is worth to loose a little bit of freedom. But mankind always have to strike a balance between knowledge creation and the use of knowledge, a balance between "protection" and freedom.
Back on track: a special license deals with Free Software. This is the General Public Licens (GPL). It uses copyright to achieve the opposite, the freedoms mentioned before. This funny - but effective - construction is nicknamed copyleft licensing (do you understand why?). It is intended for software. For manuals there is a license called the GNU Free Documentation License. It is an equivalant of the GPL. We are not 100% sure this is the license for Free Educational Content, but we are convinced this is the right spirit to create an explosion of published knowledge for everyone. On http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html you can read more about it.
Is it realistic?
There is a complete community standing behind the idea. For software it works, but can it be used for education? The answer is yes! At this moment (2004) we have been witnessing an information explosion in only a few years called wikipedia (at http://www.wikipedia.org). It is the most powerfull and free (as in freedom) encyclopedia on earth. Their momentum was so massive that even smaller projects on language level, like the Dutch wikipedia (http://nl.wikipedia.org), showed a similar information explosion in a short time (please take a look at the license terms at the bottom of the pages, when you visit wikipedia). Without doubt Free Educational Content will be the future. If only 1 per mille of the teachers are willing to help, that is enough to create an incredible amount of free school books.
What should governments do?
If we look at Free Software it took 20 years to get where we are now. If it takes another 20 years to give Free Educational Content a fixed place in our society we have lost at least 15 years picking fruits. Governments can speed up this concept. However it is very important to do business with community driven organizations like RetroRatio (the international part of the Vrijschrift.org Foundation) in order to get in contact with the community itself (we think this is really important because we see failure and capital destruction when it comes to stimulating Free and Open Source Software, governments should focus more on getting community driven organizations like the Free Software Foundation Europe involved). Digital books are a first aim. However goverments can also help in developing smart database driven information chunk systems. Such a system makes it possible to better (re)use chunks and combine chunks into lessons, semester programs, different combinations of chunks (is different books), etc..
What are the main pros and cons?
- Costs of books will be decreased dramatically
- Downloads are truely free
- Older people may have some problems learning from the screen
- There are higher computer costs, negative for the environment
- There is almost no need for paper, positive for the environment
- Physical overload of children - caused by daily carrying too much schoolbooks - is history
- Unhindered access to non plain copyrighted and structured information also increases the knowledge level of individuals and society as a whole