Compromising FOSS with future job requirements

Posted by Greten on 05 Sep 2013 under Thoughts

One of the objections that teachers and schools administrators in using free and open-source software (FOSS) programs is the concern that their students must find it easy to find employment when they graduate, and this can be realized by teaching them software programs that are already in use in most companies like Windows and Microsoft Office. While I already provided several reasons why it would be better for schools to use FOSS in their computers, this objection is a valid concern and requires thorough examination.

Employers are no longer looking for Windows or MS Office skills

When I graduated in early 2000s, it was highly advisable for us to include all the software programs that we know how to use. This includes Windows and MS Office. Writing MS Office is actually not enough: I have to write Word, Excel, and PowerPoint. However, a decade after that, several job advertisements no longer mention that they require their employees to use MS Office, and several employment blogs (see the listed references except for the first one) advise that you no longer need to write Windows or MS Office in your resume.

Graduation cap between an open document format resume and an MS document resumeThe reason, according to these blogs, is that companies are expecting that you already know these software programs. They would not ask your students if they know how to use it, they will just put them on a task wherein they are required to use one of them (assuming they are hired already, or the pre-employment exam requires them to use these progrms).

The only software programs that must be placed in the resume are those that are specific to certain college degree and certain professions. Your students can put Adobe Photoshop since universities usually teach it in Fine Arts and Practical Arts, and used in graphic intensive industries such as Advertising. They can also write Auto Cad in your resume because it is used in engineering and interior design.

However, typical computer literacy software such as MS Office Suites and Windows are not needed in the resume unless they can do more than the average computer user, e.g., knows how to troubleshoot using Windows safe mode or macro programming in Excel, and they need to write them only if the company is specifically looking for these kind of skills.

Now, you might think that this is more reason to teach students MS Office since you can never tell when employers will ask them to do tasks that require the use of MS Office. A better solution however, is to develop your computer literacy curriculum with more general perspective. Do not teach them how to use Word, Excel, and PowerPoint, but rather teach them how to use word processor, spreadsheet, and presentation software.

Teach concepts, not specific software programs

Software programs come and go. Some become de facto industry standard for some years and then disappear into oblivion. That is why it is important to develop a curriculum in computer literacy that will allow students not just to learn how to use software, but also how to adapt in the changes that happen. Companies may suddenly decide to change software programs for several reasons such as following industry standards or cutting down the operational cost. The former student and now employee may be moved to a different position in which s/he is required to use another software. Even upgrading to newer version of the same software requires employees to adjust, just like when a company decided to upgrade from MS Office 2003 to 2007 or 2010.

One way to accomplish this is to teach them computer literacy using FOSS programs like LibreOffice, while reminding them what could be the difference in other similar programs out there. For example, remind them that "Special Characters" in LibreOffice Writer is also accessible through the "Insert" tab in MS Word, but it is called "Symbols" instead. Also, repeatedly stress that Writer is a word processor, Calc is a spreadsheet, Impress is a presentation software, and GNU/Linux is an operating system. Casually introduce the other software programs that fall in these categories, such as PowerPoint and KeyNotes are both examples of presentation software.

In my employment experience, employees would really come across several different software. I grew up in Windows and MS Office. I first encountered OpenOffice in 2003 and I find it rather easy to use. In fact, when MS Office 2010 was introduced, I find OpenOffice and LibreOffice more similar to MS Office 2003 than MS Office 2010, but I was still able to use it nonetheless. I also have experience using Mac, and I find it very similar to Windows except that the commands with CTRL key is replaced with Command Key, and that the standard restore, minimize/maximize, and exit buttons are on the upper left corner instead of upper right.

Devoting time to teach students specific proprietary software can be a waste of time. Better teach them how to use FOSS while inculcating the skills of quick adaption and thinking in more general terms.

We still want our students to write MS Office in their resume

Students now are very smart. Teach them how to use LibreOffice or OpenOffice and they can quickly transfer the skills they learned when they are required to use MS Office or any other business suites. However, if you want your students to be able to confidently say that they can use MS Office without lying. here's my suggestion.

If you have a computer laboratory with 50 computers for 50 students, install Windows and MS Office to only one or two of those. From time to time, rotate the students among the computers so that all of them will experience using Windows and MS Office. They will realize how they are not so different compare to GNU/Linux and LibreOffice/OpenOffice respectively. If they claimed in a job interview or put in their resume that they know how to use Windows and MS Office, they are not lying. If you have more than two computer laboratories, dedicate one of them as the Windows computer lab wherein all computers are installed with Windows and MS Office, while the rest are installed with GNU/Linus and LibreOffice/OpenOffice. Arrange your computer classes so that all students will experience using the Windows computer lab.

The whole point of this setup is to: (1) cut down the cost and, (2) for easier software auditing before or during the time BSA came knocking at your school gates.


Last updated on 06 Sep 2013.

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