Yesterday Google announce their "Highly Open Participation Contest," a follow-on to their amazing "Summer of Code" program for college students--but this time for high school or "pre-university" students. From their announcement on the Google Code blog they described their "new effort to get pre-university students involved in all aspects of open source development, from fixing bugs to writing documentation and doing user experience research:"
While we're very excited about many aspects of the contest, the best part is that everyone can participate. Contestants must meet the eligibility requirements, but anyone interested in helping out can simply suggest a task to be included in the contest. Our contestants have a chance to win t-shirts, cash prizes, and a visit the Googleplex for a day of technical talks, delicious food and a photo with our very own Stan T. Rex.I've been talking about Free and Open Source Software (FOSS) in K12 schools for a few years now, and it has been disappointing to me that so few of the individuals or companies committed to FOSS or benefiting from it seemed to be interested in helping promote its use for educational purposes in K-12 schools. I'll frequently ask my audiences of educational technologists why Apache, MySQL, PHP, and/or Python--all current building blocks of the Web, and which can be obtained for free and run on older computers--aren't being taught in schools. You'd be amazed at the answers, from the understandable "they don't have a marketing or support budget" to the fascinating "if we knew how to use them we'd be working for a Silicon Valley company" (not sure that's very representative, but it has been said). Given the choice to either teach "Free" programs that don't require high-end hardware (and that are likely to lead to actual employment if wanted), or to teach expensive, proprietary programs that require faster computers (and that don't often build employable skills), I'm always surprised at how little FOSS is taught in schools.
Want to learn more? Check out the contest FAQs and tell your favorite pre-college students to pick a task or two to complete. You can always visit our discussion group to get help or share your thoughts.
It's also interesting to note that many of the Free and Open Source programmers I've talked with in my EdTechLive audio interview series got started programming in their early teens. I don't think that's unusual, and I think we often forget how significantly engaged a young person can be. So, some major kudos to Google for starting this program. Now, the next step will be to see if we can get the students to come and present at next year's K12 Open Minds conference!