UK should learn from open source schools project

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Avoiding commercial licenses has enabled the National Digital Resource Bank project to succeed, say free software experts

UK schools can now get open access to learning material thanks to a new open source platform which free software supporters say should serve as an example to government on how to minimise costs and risks in national IT projects.

In a statement released this week, from open source consultancy Sirius and the North West Learning Grid, the organisations said that UK schools now have unrestricted access to digital learning resources thanks to the launch of the new National Digital Resource Bank (NDRB).

Mark Taylor, chief executive of open source consultancy the Sirius Corporation said the NDRB is the first nationwide project that relies on open source
software, standards and content – and as such should be an example to government on how to keep costs down and minmise risk for large scale IT projects.

“The scale and ambition of this project has been made possible by of free and open source software. Being tied into a commercially licensed platform would have restricted the NDRB’s ability to scale. It would have been just too expensive,” he said. “The NDRB shows how to reduce the risks associated with national IT projects and make them more affordable.”

Late last month the UK government announced that open source could be key to helping the public sector cut IT costs during the downturn with some commentators claiming savings could be as much as £600m a year. The government announced what it claimed was a new policy on open source that should “ensure maximum value for money for taxpayers”.

The NDRB is the culmination of a work between Janet – the National Education Network, and the Spanish Government. Under the agreement the source code and technical documentation for ‘Agrega’, the Spanish system that underpins the National Digital Resource Bank, was released under an open source licence.

“A partnership with the Spanish Telecommunications and Information Society has been signed … to develop a National Digital Resource Bank, to create, search for, and share digital content. The UK is renowned for excellence in ICT infrastructure, development of Digital Resources, and willingness to work with other countries and has combined these three elements in this landmark project,” said Rt. Hon. Jim Knight MP, Minister of State for Schools and Learners.

According to Gary Clawson, chief executive of the North West Learning Grid, the agreement to “open source” the Spanish Agrega system was key to establishing the NDRB and finally allowing schools from around 100 local autorities to efficiently share digital content.

“The National Digital Resource Bank is the missing link in UK Digital Resource Strategy. We have a great infrastructure, we have lots of media rich
resources and we have implemented Learning Platforms in every schools,” he said. “But despite this, schools have been unable to share resources with other schools because of different technical solutions implemented across different Local Authorities”

The North West Learning Grid is a consortium of eighteen Local Authorities and more than 2,000 schools, working in partnership to develop new approaches to learning such as e-learning content.