(this page is part of the Family Guide to Digital Freedom, 2007 edition. Please do read that introduction to know more about the Guide, especially if you mean to comment this page. Thanks)

(this is part 2 of How to recognize a really good ICT School Program…)

Why worship mouses and windows?

The advertising of many computer courses is based on some combinations of these two slogans:

  • “This shortens the learning curve” (that is the time before you can do something with the software all by yourself)

  • “This has a graphical user interface, no need to know and type arcane commands”

These sentences sound like life savers. It’s like being beamed by aliens up to their planet and discovering you can talk to them with just some simple gestures. On the other hand, if people went from sign language and simple pictures to real speech and alphabets and never went back there must be a reason.

Learning just the bare minimum of graphical interfaces is perfectly acceptable and honorable for irregular and basic computer usage. If we all were software programmers, how boring would life be? There are also a lot of situations when a nice graphical interface is the best, if not only way to go. Landscaping, Computer Aided Design (CAD) or photo editing are just a few examples. A mouse-only approach, however, can be extremely limiting.

“Short learning curve” very likely implies that it will be impossible, or very difficult, to ever do more than one can learn in the first two months. “Point and click graphical interface” often means that you cannot automatize anything. When moving a computer mouse is the only way to do something, a human must remain attached to it all the time: the mouse cannot memorize complex or repetitive instructions. Real computer education, instead, should teach how to spend as little time as possible in front of a monitor. If you can save one digital photograph in just two clicks, but must manually click two hundred times to save one hundred pictures, you can’t afford long vacations to take pictures!

Again, there is nothing intrinsically wrong with refusing to learn all the secrets of every program you encounter, if it is for fun or really limited needs. Software is just a tool, not a religion. But sending anybody’s education and career down a “point and click all the way” route is really risky and unfair. If all that is known or offered by the job market are mouse click sequences, there will always be cheaper countries where those clicks can be outsorced.

What is the other way to do it?

This is strictly related to the three previous questions. In order to make sure that the skills you pay for will be valuable in real life, a course in any discipline should teach at least two different ways to solve the same problem. In many software-related classes this means introducing at least two competing program. If this doesn’t happen, what is the reason why not? Is it because there really are no competing programs, or because the teachers are not prepared to explain them both? Or is it because the teachers are not required nor encouraged to do so?

The European Computer Driving License

Many countries have already instituted and started to offer, or require from all applicants for public employment, some basic Computer Knowledge certification. One of the biggest and most important initiatives of this kind is the European Computer Driving License (ECDL) which also exists in an International version (ICDL). The concept behind the ECDL is to guarantee that the minimum skills necessary to work with computers, as well as the qualification of the instructors, are fairly and clearly defined.

As many other Government-sponsored initiatives, the ECDL and similar programs could become an excellent occasion to improve general education, as well as a wonderful opportunity to spread better and less expensive software. There are equal odds that the whole thing may become yet another cultural disaster and huge waste of public and family money. The greatest risk is that all the Government funding for ECDL and ICDL ends up aggravating public debt to the advantage of a few multinational companies.

Stay away from ECDL and similar courses when they don’t pass the test described above. Ask their organizers, and the Government branches which fund them, to stop such a misuse of public money. A State-funded program for large scale ICT education cannot simply teach how to click buttons, perpetuating (with public money!) the dependence from overpriced software.

The Database of Digitally Free Schools

Finding or advertising Schools and Universities which protect the Digital Freedom of their students and their families will hopefully become much easier in the near future. The Digifreedom.net website has started a searchable database where all schools can describe how their ICT offer guarantees Digital Freedom, as described here and in the other chapters of this book. On the same website all students and parents can add comments and exchange their experience on any school listed in the database.