What does “free education” mean?
“Free” has at least two meanings: gratis, as in “free beer” (no fees), or libre, as in “free speech”.
Of course, in a time of rising tuition fees, education gratis is very important.
But we can also think about the pressing need for libre education.
Unfree universities often feature limited curricula, large class sizes, minimal contact time, and excessive focus on exams as a way of measuring performance. The university becomes a factory in which graduates are mass-produced, with demoralised tutors acting merely as conduits for a top-down, one-way curriculum. In the process, the quality of education suffers.
As pointed out by the late Aaron Swartz, vast amounts of our intellectual heritage is locked-down by major academic publishing houses, despite the fact that much of this heritage came out of publicly-funded research. “Want to read the papers featuring the most famous results of the sciences? You’ll need to send enormous amounts to publishers like Reed Elsevier.”
Dr. Richard Stallman launched the free software movement in 1983 and started the development of the GNU operating system in 1984. GNU is free software: everyone has the freedom to copy it and redistribute it, with or without changes. The GNU/Linux system (basically the GNU operating system with Linux added) is used on tens of millions of computers today. In 1989, Stallman wrote the GNU General Public License. This became the first copyleft license to enjoy widespread use.
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