Over the last two months I’ve become involved in several homeschooling and unschooling communities both on-line and in our community here in Northeast Ohio. As I am an admitted geek, I find myself frequently answering questions about computers. Mixed in to the typical ‘what computer should I buy?’ or ‘do I really need a laptop/desktop or can I get away with just a tablet?’ type questions have been more than a few on programming and computer science for kids.
And its made me start to wonder something – why aren’t there programs to get kids involved in FOSS? There are growing numbers of programs to help kids learn programming, but aside from Google Code-In (which I keep plugging, though I have yet to speak to anyone who’s heard of it before…), none that I have found encourage (or even mention) the use and development of free software. Its a huge gap, and one which we should be working to fill.
If we want to convince people to move to free software we need to get them involved asap - before they develop preconceived notions about software. Many kids today have their own computers, tablets, cell phones, etc, and though many would like to learn to develop on them, there’s just not a whole lot of materials out there to help them learn. And, unfortunately, most of what does exist, has been designed (sometimes explicitly) without free software in mind. The result is a majority of kids learning to program in closed environments without any idea that there is another, more open way to do things.
The result is yet another generation of kids who have barely heard of FOSS. Another generation lost to closed source, both as users and developers. If there is a target audience who we should be promoting free software to, its kids. They are a perfect fit – though many of them have access to technology, very few have much (if any!) expendable income. We ought to begin advertising our desire to teach them to use and contribute to free software, along with its benefits. We ought to begin designing basic programming classes for kids using free software and explaining its benefits. We also need to make it easy for those kids to talk to us and tell us about their software, what it does and what they need help with. If we want them to join us, then we need to give them the resources and the ability to do so.
We need something to point both kids and parents alike to. Something that we can show them and say ‘Look! Look at what you and your kids can do with free software! Look how it can help them learn!’ Because there are thousands, likely millions of them out there – kids who want to learn. Parents who want to facilitate their kids learn about computers. I myself continue to meet them, both online and off on a nearly daily basis – and I want, I need, something, anything to point them to.