Ubuntu = No More Student Debt?

Support SaturdayI consider myself extremely fortunate to be living in Vancouver, BC for many reasons, but one of the main ones is the extremely active Ubuntu group here. Some of you may have noticed in my last post about Ubuntu that after I installed the latest release called Karmic Koala, I immediately got a warning that my hard-drive was failing and I was able to update my hardware without loosing any info–a very smooth switch, unlike many I have been through. Shortly after getting my computer upgraded the Vancouver Ubuntu group hosted a Support Saturday, and I took my computer with a bunch of questions down to get some help.

I confess to being extremely nervous, as I wasn’t even sure if my questions made sense, and I know IT guys can sometimes be very abrupt to put it mildly. So when I poked my head in the door I was very pleased to be immediately welcomed in and ushered off to the support room where a very jovial German fellow, Stefan, tried to make sense of my confused babbling about what I needed fixed. I use digikam a lot for sorting and tagging all of my photos and had them all on an external hard-drive that I was now sharing with a network, so I was trying to find out if I could access the database from my computer over the network, he quickly sorted me out, and then helped me to install Skype–actually it was very easy and I had just been assuming that it didn’t work with Ubuntu, when it actually does now.

As we were wrapping up another friendly chap came by and sat down to help me get the Ubuntu ‘bling’ as he called it going in full effect. And boy is my computer souped up now! Even my partner, who uses mac, is impressed and slightly jealous of my four desktops that I can switch between with flair and a simple key stroke. I walked away from the Support Saturday, feeling like part of a vibrant and a really important movement as well as having met some great people.

ubuntu powered by humanityOne of the things I have noticed with the Ubuntu group is that it is extremely international, an example of this comes from the monthly general meeting, where I met a man from Brazil, who actually was born in Ghana (I think it was, sorry my memory isn’t what it used to be), a few seconds later another guy joined our conversation and turned out to be an Italian looking Chinese from Macau, so I asked him if he spoke Portuguese and soon the two of them were chatting away in Portuguese.

Another wonderful thing that this Ubuntu group does is to have a presentation every Wednesday night where one of the members of the community presents a program that they are comfortable with. In one evening–in fact, it was just one hour, I learned more about manipulating my images with GIMP, than I would have trying to figure it out on my own (some people are really good at doing tutorials–and there are really good ones available, but I like having someone show me). Sure was a time saver, plus as I said before, I again met some new and interesting people.

It wasn’t long after this that I was watching Obama’s State of the Union address and in one section he talks about student loans and what the government is going to do to help alleviate the insane amount of debt students are forced into to get an education. I have always felt that it is criminal to wind up in debt-peonage for 20+ years in order to get an education that often doesn’t even get you a good job, so I am happy to finally see that this issue is being addressed, although I think that the small crumbs that are being thrown out to students, is still far from a just system of affordable education. Part of the problem here is the insane costs that universities themselves face (Obama only mentions this briefly and curiously there is no standing ovation when he does so).

We are living in a world where we are not making proper use of the technologies that we have in a way that is helpful for the financially strapped majority. Ubuntu can and is helping in this area. The Vancouver Ubuntu Community’s fearless and passionate leader, Randall recently brought this to my attention when he sent out a link to an article about a school in Auckland, NZ that is using only open source software, despite the fact that the New Zealand government has an expensive contract with Microsoft for all of their schools.

One of the main things I really like about Ubuntu (although to be honest I haven’t actually participated that much in this end of things to date) is that communication is encouraged to flow in every direction. The people using the programs (like me), if they find a bug or need to be able to do something unusual, communicate their troubles or desires to the programming network and voilà, the tools are created. This is such a dynamic and alive system and really shows how much this type of interaction is missing in our ancient and out-dated institutions, where the flow is hierarchical and if you are at the bottom of the rung, you just have to take what you get and do your best to make do. In this new interactive system, making a mistake is not the devastating event, that calls for punishment, that it generally is in the old world system. Truly revolutionary.

To be honest most of my long lasting learning experiences have come from studying on my own with the use of the internet, libraries, or interactions with people. When I look back on my institutional education, from kindergarden through college and even into culinary school and the money that I spent on that education, I have to say it is just wrong. I have spent most of my time since those days unlearning what I was force fed. The world we live in today is completely different than it was twenty or even ten years ago, but we haven’t managed to catch up with it. Personally I think universities and colleges and whatnot should be done away with entirely, but I know this is unlikely to happen over-night so in the meantime, wouldn’t it be best if all universities and schools made use of this FREE software network? The schools costs will be cut immensely, and hopefully, if the people running the schools aren’t too greedy and caught up in silly school politics, these savings will be directly passed onto the students.

Education is important, but it is criminal to force the young people who will potentially solve many of our problems and bring all kinds of new ideas into our world, into this crippling debt-peonage system. It was out of hand when I was in university over ten years ago and since then it has just gotten worse. Not only that but with the current systems and institutions there is so much politiking–for the poor professors themselves to be able to keep their jobs and do some research that they are interested in, that actually teaching a student and really bringing out the unique potential that is within each student, is not something that actually happens. Instead we are trained to parrot and to repeat the mistakes of the last generation. A truly sad state of affairs, when there is an entirely interactive and freely available system already in place that is not being fully appreciated.

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