The last week one headline hit the floor of some GIS-blogs in the US: Jack Dangermond, the founder of GIS -ahm I mean ESRI- pledged about $1 billion to US government by making software ArcGIS available for free for all the K-12 schools across the country. What a smart idea! In fact we face a similar movement in the current university environment: ArcGIS licenses are wide spreaded and most students learn how to use a GIS by learning how to use ArcGIS. When released on the job market they know how to use ArcGIS and the companies needs to offer ArcGIS… What a smart move. In fact I see lots of students facing the problem to understand other GIS like GRASS, QGIS or gvSIG just by comparing everything with ArcGIS.
Don’t get me wrong: I think ArcGIS is a great GIS with plenty features, a well written documentation, broad capabilities and stuff. But my idea about teaching spatial thinking and to enable people to solve their spatial related problems with a Geographic Information System is not pending on ArcGIS. It is connected with the possibilities of people to use software as a tool. Most people don’t know other tools than ArcGIS and that is a pity.
The chicken or the egg?
Now let’s come back to the k-12 schools. My first question was: Do they use GIS at the moment in their current curriculum? It seems like it is a growing part of Geography somehow. But nearly everything I’ve found was connected with the buzz-word “ArcGIS”. Are there schools in the world that use a open source GIS in their classes?! I would really like to know (drop us a line if you do, and tell about your experiences)! The number of hits for a simple Google search of “QGIS schools” was disappointing.
So it comes to the chicken or the egg question. If GIS is and will always be connected with ArcGIS since the primary and secondary education level through the universities a quasi-standard is defined. Companies will need to offer ArcGIS even more, the money machine will work again and all the account manager wont be disappointed. Open source initiatives needs to come up with a in-depth curriculum/ documentation and need to communicate the possibilities they offer with their GIS to the public. There is no need for schools to use the J. Dangermond offer. Pupils and students should not only use one software for their spatial questions/data/problems (you remember a thing called Excel 😉 )
Please use an open source GIS: You will enable your pupils and students to use it at home, they can use it after their time in the k-12 as well, they can use it on different operating systems.