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OER Africa was very pleased to note that UNESCO OER Recommendation (40 C/32) was adopted at the 40th UNESCO General Conference in Paris on 25th November 2019. The formal Recommendation is yet to be posted online by UNESCO but the text can be found here. Approval of the Recommendation represents a significant recognition of the concept of open educational resources (OER) and its potential in education by governments around the world. While 34 Recommendations have been adopted since UNESCO’s inception in 1945, only seven of these pertain to education, so this represents a rare achievement for the OER movement.

OER Africa is proud to have been actively engaged in development of the OER Recommendation. Although the origins of the process may be said to date back to when the term was first coined was first coined in 2002 at UNESCO's Forum on the Impact of Open Courseware for Higher Education in Developing Countries, the first meaningful effort to achieve consensus over global positions on OER took place at the first World OER Congress in Paris in 2012, which led to adoption at the Congress of the Paris OER Declaration 2012. OER Africa participated actively in the work leading up to this Declaration, conducting research on the status of government OER policies, participating in regional workshops leading up to the Congress, and helping with drafting of the Declaration. As the UNESCO website notes, ‘the Declaration marks a historic moment in the growing movement for Open Educational Resources and calls on governments worldwide to openly license publicly funded educational materials for public use’. However, as a Congress Declaration, it has no official status as a UNESCO document.
 
Following from this, a Second World OER Congress was organized in Llubljana, Slovenia in 2017, an event in which OER Africa was again actively involved (conducting further research on the status of OER globally, participating in regional consultation workshops, and playing an active role in the Congress programme and drafting of the Second World OER Congress Ljubljana OER Action Plan 2017
 
This Congress initiated development of a first draft of the UNESCO OER Recommendation for public consultation, with OER Africa having participated in the drafting of this document at a special meeting of experts that took place alongside the UNESCO Mobile Learning Week in 2018. Following receipt of public comments, a second expert meeting took place alongside Mobile Learning Week in 2019, in which OER Africa again participated actively, which culminated in publication of the first official draft of the UNESCO OER Recommendation in April, 2019. As UNESCO Recommendations are ultimately inter-governmental agreements, this version was circulated to governments for their comments and discussed at an Intergovernmental Meeting for the Draft Recommendation in Paris in May 2019, to which all member states of UNESCO were invited and 150 delegates from 100 countries participated. OER Africa was able to attend and contribute to the meeting as an invited expert observer, though UNESCO procedures require that changes to a draft Recommendation can only be made with agreement by all member state representatives.
 
At the May 2019 meeting, the final text of the OER Recommendation was approved by consensus by all Member States and thereafter prepared for formal submission to the 4th UNESCO General Conference in November, 2019, where it was adopted. As the UNESCO website notes, 
'Recommendations are instruments in which ‘the General Conference formulates principles and norms for the international regulation of any particular question and invites Member States to take whatever legislative or other steps may be required in conformity with the constitutional practice of each State and the nature of the question under consideration to apply the principles and norms aforesaid within their respective territories’ (Article 1 (b)). These are therefore norms which are not subject to ratification but which Member States are invited to apply. Emanating from the Organization's supreme governing body and hence possessing great authority, recommendations are intended to influence the development of national laws and practices.'
 
Thus, while not legally binding, Recommendations are important documents within UNESCO and member states are obliged to report to the General Conference on their progress in implementing them. Given this, adoption of the OER Recommendation is a major achievement and one which OER Africa is proud to have contributed.
 
Since the Recommendation was approved, there have inevitably been some criticisms of the final text that was adopted (see, for example, critiques by David Wiley and Stephen Downes). These critiques tend to focus on compromises that were made during the drafting process of the Recommendation that may have the consequence of allowing some ‘closed’ practices to creep into implementation of the Recommendation by governments. While there is technical validity to these critiques, our view at OER Africa is that the OER Recommendation is important for the spirit of what it encourages governments to do, rather than in its specific technical details. As Recommendations are not legally binding on states, those governments that wish to undermine that spirit are more likely to do so by ignoring the OER Recommendation than by seeking to subvert its intent. And the compromises made were an essential part of the process of securing the necessary consensus to adoption of the final OER Recommendation (as we saw clearly during the Intergovernmental Meeting in May, 2019 where the final text was agreed). Consequently, as OER Africa, we believe that these technical limitations are relatively minor in the overall movement towards openness that adoption of the UNESCO OER Recommendation represents. Thus, we are excited to continue our work, and to continue supporting UNESCO and its government in implementing their work, in our joint efforts to harness open licensing to improve access to high quality education for all Africans.

What's New

What have been the experiences of African Open Educational Resources (OER) initiatives focussed on higher education? What can we learn from these experiences? Although the concept of OER initially gained publicity in the Global North, OER are gaining traction in Africa. OER Africa researched several African OER initiatives to assess their long-term contribution to establishing sustainable OER practices in African higher education.

What have been the experiences of African Open Educational Resources (OER) initiatives focussed on higher education? What can we learn from these experiences? Although the concept of OER initially gained publicity in the Global North, OER are gaining traction in Africa, with an increasing number of OER initiatives focusing on areas such as OER advocacy, practice, and research. Today, the concept has been mainstreamed around the world, as exemplified through the unanimous adoption of the UNESCO Recommendation on OER in 2019.

OER Africa researched several African OER initiatives to assess their long-term contribution to establishing sustainable OER practices in African higher education. This work explored their effectiveness and identified lessons to enable better development and support of OER practices. It also helped to deepen OER Africa’s understanding of professional development needs amongst African academics to enable more effective OER practices.

To do this, we developed case studies on eleven African OER initiatives in higher education to gain an understanding of the effectiveness of each initiative, followed by an analytical summary report. The report collates the findings from the OER initiatives , highlighting the implications of the findings for better development and support for effective OER practices.

Access the case studies and report here.


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 Access the OER Africa communications archive here

Museums tell ancient and recent histories as they collect, safeguard, and make accessible artefacts and specimens that they hold in trust to inspire and enable people to explore, learn, and enjoy. They continue to evolve in their roles and contribution to education as they embrace open access and Open Educational Resource (OER) principles.

Image courtesy of Abdullah Elhariry, Unsplash (Unsplash licence)

Museums continue to evolve in their roles and contribution to education as they embrace open access and Open Educational Resource (OER) principles. Museums are joining the open access movement by, for example, providing high-resolution downloadable images free of charge to maximise the ability of people to interact with, share, and reuse their collections.  

Museums tell ancient and recent histories as they collect, safeguard, and make accessible artefacts and specimens that they hold in trust to inspire and enable people to explore, learn, and enjoy. All museums support education as they provide unique prospects and platforms to engage students in their spaces and through their exhibitions, presentations, lectures, and discussion sessions on history, science, mathematics, technology, medicine, arts, politics, religion, humanities and social sciences, among others.

The Shenzhen Declaration on Museums and Collections of the UNESCO High-Level Forum on Museums from 2016 promoted the educational role of museums and the adaptation of museums' contents to provide a variety of formal, non-formal, and lifelong open learning experiences through universal accessibility for various audiences and removal of barriers to disadvantaged groups and persons with specific needs and capacities.

Learning about history and culture includes learning about all the aspects of the human ‘being’ and their day-to-day life. For example, if a student visits a museum and explores an exhibition dealing with historical figures or events involving aviation, the student is likely to be intrigued to want to learn more about flying which may not have been introduced as a vocation in the classroom. In such a case, the museum experience could well be an initial influence on future life choices of the students.

Museums are adopting open access to increase public engagement with their collections, introduce news areas of operation, and collaborate with creators and other institutions of learning, including universities, colleges, and schools.

The challenges of COVID-19 lockdowns in the past two years left museums without visitors, prompting them to accelerate digitization of their collections and adopt open licences for learners and academics to access their holdings as part of their learning or academic research. Since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, nearly 1,000 cultural heritage institutions around the world have adopted open licences to provide virtual access to their collections and resources.

Open access for museums refers to efforts made by museums to digitise their collections allowing for the creation of virtual exhibitions and databases or libraries, which are accessible online, containing high-resolution downloadable collections of digitised images of artefacts and information resources, including text, photos, movies, audio files, maps, graphs, and links to other sites.

Some of the digitised museum collections for Africa and African resources include the following:

African Online Digital Library (AODL) – AODL is an open access digital library of African cultural heritage materials created by Michigan State University in collaboration with museums, archives, scholars, and communities globally.

Smithsonian Open Access National Museum of African American History & Culture – The Smithsonian Institution is the world’s largest museum, education, and research complex, with 21 museums and the National Zoo—shaping the future by preserving heritage, discovering new knowledge, and sharing resources with the world. The Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture is exclusively devoted to the documentation of the African American life, history, and culture. The museum has collected more than 40,000 artefacts. The images and data are in the public domain under the Creative Commons Zero (CC0) licence, allowing use, transformation, and sharing of the open access assets without asking permission from the Smithsonian.

COM Library - African Art – This hub of open access resources for African art features Google Arts and Culture content from over 1,000 leading museum and archives that have partnered with Google Cultural Institute to bring the world’s treasures online. 

Adoption of open access and OER principles by museums increases the diffusion of knowledge for both education and information. It helps students, researchers, and education providers access unique material locked up in museums all over the world. Open access can also help provide the education sector in Africa access to some of Africa’s artefacts in many museums in the global north collected during colonialism.


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OER Africa coordinated a project with members of the Network of Open Orgs, a coalition of organizations that meets regularly on implementing and supporting the UNESCO OER Recommendation. The project involved a collaborative effort among several members of the Network to develop a set of seven research summaries that explore the success of OER.

Advocates of Open Educational Resources (OER) often promote their perceived benefits, such as increasing access to educational materials; improving scalability and circulation of resources; and providing opportunities to adapt resources to suit learners’ needs and contexts. However, the past five years alone have seen significant shifts in education systems. Transformative forces such as the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, leaps in technology development, and global economic reconfiguration mean that now more than ever, education systems need to remain dynamic and responsive.

Key to this responsiveness is ensuring that there is ongoing research on the actual benefits of using OER, so that we can gain a comprehensive, measured understanding of its implementation, benefits, challenges, and lessons. Such research can provide insight on how to most effectively implement the goals of the UNESCO OER Recommendation.

Within this context, OER Africa coordinated a project with members of the Network of Open Orgs, a coalition of organizations that meets regularly on implementing and supporting the UNESCO OER Recommendation. The project involved a collaborative effort among several members of the Network to develop a set of seven research summaries that explore the success of OER. The summaries were then analysed to extract key findings, which were presented in a short report.

The Network aims to make such analyses an ongoing activity to remain abreast of OER implementation around the world. Ultimately, this will assist in realising the goals of the OER Recommendation.

Access the case studies and summary report here.