Saturday, February 14th, 2009 | Feasibility
Fishermen conceal hooks in pieces of bait in the hope that an unwary fish would be fooled into thinking that a morsel of food is up for grabs. The fish is, in effect, offered a free lunch. But since there is no such thing as a free lunch, the fish often has to pay a price by becoming the lunch itself.
Schools should take a lesson from this. Beware of anything that seems to be free – particularly on the technology front. Search for the hooks. There may be none, but you could never be too careful. Consider a few possibilities.
Second hand computers are donated to a school. This is usually done when it is no longer financially viable for the donor to maintain the equipment. The hidden hook is that the high cost of maintenance is transferred to the school.
Microsoft has a free licence agreement with schools in South Africa according to which schools may use most of their products at no cost. But this agreement is only valid for a few years. What happens after this period? Is this a clever trick to hook schools into a product from which it would be difficult to be extricated?
An alternative to proprietary software is open source software. The promise is that it is free and can liberate a school from money-grabbing software companies. Is there a hidden hook? Is it possible that some companies are preparing to enrich themselves through consultancy and training that must inevitably happen when schools try to come to grips with an unfamiliar technical platform?
Donors offer free technology to schools. Why would they do this? What do they hope to get in return? Often the cost to install the equipment exceeds the value of the donation. Could one afford to accept such gifts?
Then there are the NGOs (Non Government Organizations) and NPOs (Not for Profit Organizations). Through a published philanthropic guise a school may be tempted into a relationship with such a body. But you simply have to investigate the remuneration packages of the executives of these organizations to see how noble the organization really is. And what do they expect in return for their services?
Of course, these examples are generalizations and do not apply to all who offer free services and products to schools. There are some honest give-aways out there – but they are few and far between.
School principals and teachers are, in general, naïve when it comes to commercial tricks. Often schools are cash strapped and in need of assistance. For these reasons one can not blame them if they get hooked.
A warning is in order – look out for the hooks and the crooks.