OER Africa Menu

Close Menu

Search form

Open Education has the potential to make education more accessible, enable the creation of relevant teaching and learning materials, improve the quality of content, and empower learners to be critical thinkers and knowledge creators. Open Education Week (OE Week), held annually, is an opportunity for actively sharing and learning about the latest achievements in Open Education worldwide. OE Week provides practitioners, educators, and students with an opportunity to gain a greater understanding of open educational practices and be inspired by the OE community. OE Week will be held from 1-5 March 2021.

The term ‘Open Education’ is often used when discussing open educational resources (OER). However the term more broadly refers to a commitment to remove unnecessary barriers to access learning while seeking to ensure high quality educational experiences that will enable success both during and after studies. This commitment includes developing policies and practices of openness in entry requirements (with minimal or no restriction on qualifications), choice of courses, place of study and time, and so on. An open education approach can inform practice in face-to-face education, distance education, and online and blended learning.[1]

Open Education incorporates the key principle of learner-centredness. The learner should be the focus of the educational process and should be regarded as an active participant in an interactive engagement. Cognisance needs to be taken of the learner context, building on their experience wherever possible. Open Education should encourage independent and critical thinking. This is facilitated by regarding the learner as an active participant in the educational process and can be further enhanced by offering learners choices, possibilities, and contesting viewpoints within that process. Teaching independent and critical thinking empowers learners to be able to interact confidently and effectively within society.

Click here to learn more about Open practices, trends and opportunities in higher education in Africa.

 

Lifelong learning is central to openness. Learning should continue throughout life, rather than being limited to childhood and teenage years, and should be of direct relevance to the needs and life experience of learners. The concept of lifelong learning implies an acknowledgement of the reality that learning is a process in which all people are inevitably involved from birth until death and a consequent attempt to make structured educational opportunities available to people throughout their lives.

Education has become far more accessible to more people through the innovations introduced by Information and Communication Technology (ICT). While ICT has created many new possibilities for reaching learners, it also creates new barriers to access for many. Although online learning can accommodate different ways and styles of learning (making for greater accessibility) and enable the construction of a richer learning environment, all learners potentially face barriers to learning. These barriers may include the high cost of Internet access and technology, technical constraints in the use of technology, a shortage of appropriate resources (in the local language or context), or content that is not designed to be accessible to learners with disabilities.

Harnessing technology and online learning methods can provide access to education for those in remote areas, for the socially disadvantaged, and for the marginalised. If carefully implemented, Open Education can play a potentially important role in achieving the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and enabling lifelong learning. Of course, effective learning design is critical and recognises that people learn differently and require learning resources that are related to their needs and circumstances.

The FLOE Handbook can guide teachers and content creators to develop more inclusive and accessible educational resources.

 

An important element of openness is licensing. Legal frameworks such as Creative Commons help to govern how open a resource is. These licences provide mechanisms to ensure that authors of materials can retain acknowledgement for their work while allowing it to be shared, can restrict commercial activity, and can aim to prevent people from adapting it if they so wish. Open licensing creates possibilities for teachers and learners to access teaching and learning materials that they may not otherwise have been able to access. While e-books for the academic market are becoming more widely available, especially since the COVID-19 pandemic, unaffordable prices, an inability to buy e-books due to a refusal to sell or bundling of titles in packages, and restrictions on research copying are affecting coursework and research in universities. In the UK, libraries say they have struggled with high e-book prices and lack of availability for years, but this situation is now critical because students urgently need digital resources during the pandemic. Follow the hashtag #eBookSOS for more.

Using and creating OER encourages collaboration, so educators are able to share teaching practices and benefit from the ideas of others. Effective OER practices have the potential to improve the quality and reduce the costs of educational materials. This opens the possibility of making previously expensive materials affordably accessible to many. This is one potential solution to the challenges facing learners and teachers in Africa and across the world.

The Commonwealth of Learning (COL) has created guidelines and a resource list for institutions to keep the doors of learning open during the COIVID-19 pandemic.

 

The fundamental principles underlying OER are the freedom to share knowledge and that the knowledge should be legally, socially, and technologically open. OER promote the creation and adaptation of content for different contexts. This is particularly important in Africa as it is the least visible continent online, despite accommodating a population of over a billion people. Content used in Africa is not always created by Africans. By using OER, learners and teachers in Africa are able to findadapt, and create open content that is tailored to their needs, inclusive, and reflects the local context.

OER Africa has developed a series of learning pathways for university academic staff that will enable them to improve their teaching and learning capacity using OER.

 

If you are interested in engaging in Open Education practices and networking with colleagues, there are a few ways to participate in OE Week. You can host an event, share OER, or attend activities hosted by others. For more information click here

Remember all the resources on the OER Africa website are free to use and share. Let us know what you are doing to celebrate OE Week. Tag @OERAfrica in your social media posts and use #OEWeek. 


[1] Commonwealth of Learning. (2020). Open and Distance Learning – Key Terms & Definitions [online]. Available from: http://oasis.col.org/bitstream/handle/11599/3558/2020_COL_ODL_KeyTerms_Definitions.pdf [accessed 22 October 2020].


For more articles in this series, click on the links below.

 

What's New

The Open Access (OA) movement has gained even greater traction over the past 18 months, in an effort to make research on COVID-19 more widely available and to make research in other fields accessible to remote teachers and learners. But what is OA? Why is it increasingly important and how has COVID-19 advanced the OA cause?

Image courtesy of Kojo Kwarteng, Unsplash

What is Open Access?

As the world continues to grapple with the uncertainties that the COVID-19 pandemic presents, the need for accessible, rigorous, unbiased knowledge has never been more urgent. However, this need stands in the wake of a barrage of misinformation, disinformation, and ‘fake news’.

In spite – or perhaps because – of this, the Open Access (OA) movement has gained even greater traction over the past 18 months, in an effort to make research on COVID-19 more widely available and to make research in other fields accessible to remote teachers and learners. But what is OA? Why is it increasingly important and how has COVID-19 advanced the OA cause?

OA is a set of principles and a range of practices through which research outputs are distributed online, free of cost or other access barriers, providing users with full re-use rights.[1] OA seeks to make research and data available for anyone, anywhere in the world to read, use, and build upon the knowledge, thus making knowledge outputs more valuable to a greater number of people.[2]

Open access can be applied to any published research output, including peer-reviewed and non peer-reviewed academic journal articles, conference papers, theses, book chapters, monographs, research reports, and images. OA journals are categorized using a simple colour system.[3],[4]

Table 1         The OA publishing system

OA can, to an extent, be contrasted with ‘traditional’ publishing models for research outputs, with often exorbitant journal subscription fees that have consistently outpaced the consumer price index by a factor of four to five over the past three decades.[5] The high cost of journal subscription fees has meant that educational institutions, educators, researchers, and students may be locked out by paywalls and often cannot afford to access these articles, or are forced to buy them without knowing whether the content is relevant for their purposes. Moreover, publishing in scholarly peer reviewed journals usually involves long delays from submission to publication, which takes an average of nine months. This is partially due to the length of the peer review process, but can also be attributed to the prevailing tradition of publishing in issues – which has become less relevant because of the digitization of materials. This custom ultimately creates backlogs of manuscripts awaiting publication.[6]

 

Open Access during COVID-19

Why is OA more relevant now than ever before? The last 18 months has provided an extraordinary research context in which researchers have bypassed traditional systems to provide up-to-date research and findings about the evolving COVID-19 pandemic. As a group of United States-based patient and disease advocacy organisations recently noted, ‘information critical to health should no longer be held hostage by arcane publishing’[7].

Throughout the pandemic, researchers have embraced open publishing platforms and preprint servers to disseminate their findings as rapidly as possible. The first article related to COVID-19 was published on bioRxiv on 19 January 2020 – just 20 days after the Chinese government informed the World Health Organization (WHO) of the impending COVID-19 threat. The article was licensed under a CC BY-NC-ND 4.0 International licence.[8] Some publishers have committed to publishing scientific articles relating to the disease as OA. Others are facilitating rapid open peer review and expediting the publishing of related research. The Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Michael Hiltzig refers to this convincing demonstration of the value of OA to scientific research as one of the most important positive disruptions caused by COVID-19.[9]

At a practical level, the adoption of open practices has ignited collaboration and interaction amongst the scientific community. As Heather Joseph, the executive director of SPARC explains,

One of the things that COVID is showing us is that when scientists start openly pooling their data and articles, they start to have conversations about science in real time. Instead of waiting months for key findings to be published, scientists are sharing their findings on the sorts of channels many people use every day—such as Slack and Twitter.

This demonstrates how OA is part of the evolution of research publishing and in so doing, how it has contributed to our understanding of the disease. It is easy to see how the greater availability of information has propelled more rapid progress in various areas relating to COVID-19 – freely available scientific information has never been more necessary than in this age, where misinformation from unidentifiable or unrecognised sources muddies the waters between fact and fiction. But how has the pandemic highlighted the need for more people to consider making their research and data OA?

 

What about other research?

While most COVID-19 related studies were commendably made freely available to all, much of the world’s publicly funded university research remains hidden behind paywalls. However, the tide seems to be turning. Publishers, research institutions, and funders are collaborating to deliver high-quality OA publications for free at the point of publication.[10]

Efforts to remove journal paywalls have also gained significant traction since 2018, when an influential group of research funders announced that the scientists they fund should publish their peer-reviewed papers outside journal paywalls. This initiative, named Plan S, created instantaneous speculation over its efforts to eliminate journal subscription models. After many deliberations over policy, the project officially began in 2021, with 25 funding agencies rolling out similar OA mandates.[11] This has catalysed a significant shift, as an article in Nature explains,

Despite the complexity it’s brought, Plan S has already catalysed a shift in the OA landscape, advocates say. Journals that previously offered no route to make peer-reviewed articles immediately OA now do — even if only for authors with Plan S funders — and there’s been a blossoming of experiments with OA business models.[12]

Other significant developments include the global OA advocacy initiative OA2020’s efforts to implement transformative agreements in transitioning scholarly journals to OA. Transformative agreements allow users to repurpose former subscription payments to cover open publication of a country’s or institution’s research articles, thus eliminating author-facing article processing charges. Transformative agreements also allow one to restructure financial streams, creating enabling conditions for OA publishing and a more transparent, competitive market.[13]

In Africa, Côte d’Ivoire has launched a country-level Open Access repository, while Ethiopian university and government stakeholders have implemented OA policies for repositories, journals and infrastructures. In South Africa, institutions like University of Cape Town and University of the Witwatersrand have made similar inroads in promoting OA, with the former institution developing a continental platform for publishing OA journals, monographs and textbooks in Africa.[14] In addition, countries such as Ghana, Malawi, and Uganda, have finalized their national policies for data and repository management.[15]

These kinds of arrangements have contributed to significant progress in mainstreaming OA. Piwowar et al estimate that, as of 2019, approximately 31% of all journal articles are available as OA and 52% of article views are to OA articles. Given these trends, they project that, by 2025, 44% of all journal articles will be available as OA and 70% of article views will be to OA articles.[16] However, there is still a lot of work to be done, as noted in a recent article:

In addition to and sometimes combined with geopolitical arguments and regional skepticism, active attempts to discredit open access as “bad science” are never far from the surface, e.g. the insinuation that open access publications may not be properly peer reviewed or that the APC model inevitably leads to lots of publications with questionable merit.[17]

This drives home the point that OA requires a consistent commitment to make sustainable – and sometimes incremental – gains in realising its goals. The current COVID-19 crisis highlights the importance of unfettered access to scientific and scholarly information, for researchers, educators, students, journalists and non-academic professionals alike. But sustainable change needs to happen at both the systemic and individual levels. Ultimately, it is not a question of whether OA is better than other publishing models, but rather of how OA can enhance a more equitable publishing ecosystem and thus make knowledge and data more accessible.

For more information on how to publish OA research, OER Africa has created a learning pathway to give you practical guidance for doing so. Visit Publish Using Open Access to access this tutorial. Other learning pathways are available here.

 

Related articles:

 

Access the OER Africa communications archive



[4] Open Access.nl. (nd). What is Open Access? Retrieved from https://www.openaccess.nl/en/what-is-open-access

[5] Burns, P. (2017). Academic journal publishing is headed for a day of reckoning. The Conversation. Retrieved from https://theconversation.com/academic-journal-publishing-is-headed-for-a-day-of-reckoning-80869

[6] Björk, B. and Solomon, D. (2013). ‘The publishing delay in scholarly peer-reviewed journals’. Journal of Infometrics. Retrieved from https://www.researchgate.net/publication/259165321_The_publishing_delay_in_scholarly_peer-reviewed_journals

[8] Kiley, R. (2020). ‘Open access: how COVID-19 will change the way research findings are shared’. Wellcome. Retrieved from https://wellcome.org/news/open-access-how-covid-19-will-change-way-research-findings-are-shared

[9] Tavernier, W. (2020). ‘COVID-19 demonstrates the value of open access: What happens next?’ Association of College and Research Libraries. Retrieved from https://crln.acrl.org/index.php/crlnews/article/view/24414/32251

[10] Boyle, P. (2021). ‘Covid-19 underlines the need for full open access’. Times Higher Education. Retrieved from https://www.timeshighereducation.com/blog/covid-19-underlines-need-full-open-access

[11] Else, H. (2021). ‘A guide to Plan S: the open-access initiative shaking up science publishing’. Nature. Retrieved from https://www.nature.com/articles/d41586-021-00883-6

[12] Else, H. (2021). ‘A guide to Plan S: the open-access initiative shaking up science publishing’. Nature. Retrieved from https://www.nature.com/articles/d41586-021-00883-6

[13] Open Access 2020. (2020). OA2020 Progress Report. Retrieved from https://oa2020.org/wp-content/uploads/OA2020-Progress-Report-December-2020.pdf

[14] Makoni, M. (2021). New continental platform for open access publishing. University World News. Retrieved from https://www.universityworldnews.com/post.php?story=20210203114558607

[15] Markin, P. (2020). Open Access in Africa, Institutional Repository Development and Open Science Challenges. Open Research Community. Retrieved from https://openresearch.community/posts/open-access-in-africa-institutional-repository-development-and-open-science-challenges?channel_id=2448-players

[16] Piwowar, H., Priem, J. and Orr, R. (2019). ‘The Future of OA: A large-scale analysis projecting Open Access publication and readership’. bioRxiv. Retrieved from https://www.biorxiv.org/content/10.1101/795310v1

[17] Spichtinger, D. (2020). ‘Not yet the default setting – in 2020 open research remains a work in progress’. London School of Economics. Retrieved from https://blogs.lse.ac.uk/impactofsocialsciences/2020/01/17/not-yet-the-default-setting-in-2020-open-research-remains-a-work-in-progress/

 

OER Africa has been grappling with the complexities surrounding diversity promotion. We have written this article in the hope that it contributes to an ongoing conversation – within our initiative and beyond – on diversity in the OER space.

 

Image courtesy of PCH Vector, Freepik

At OER Africa we were encouraged to see that the UNESCO Recommendation on OER aims to facilitate international cooperation to 'develop a global pool of culturally diverse, locally relevant, gender-sensitive, accessible, educational materials in multiple languages and formats'. This is a powerful ideal, and OER Africa has been grappling with the complexities surrounding diversity promotion. We have written this article in the hope that it contributes to an ongoing conversation – within our initiative and beyond – on diversity in the OER space.

Cultural diversity refers to the practice of including people from varied socio-economic, racial, ethnic, and cultural backgrounds, as well as people of different genders and sexual orientations. This article will focus predominantly on inclusion of people from Africa and the global South.

On 21 May, we celebrated World Day for Cultural Diversity for Dialogue and Development. Despite this, African resources, as well as its people and its languages are underrepresented in global digital knowledge networks. To take one example: Wikipedia has more articles about Paris than it does about the whole of Africa.[1] In addition to a lack of African content, African narratives are often written by people outside Africa, enforcing biases in the content with which Africans engage and in how Africa is represented.

Without knowledge and narratives created by people from Africa, Africans are, from a very young age, prevented from experiencing an accurate representation of their world, in their languages, and from being able to contribute to developing such a representation. This is exacerbated by education systems that are not yet systematically (or systemically) developing the skills young Africans need to contribute to global knowledge networks. These skills include creativity and critical thinking, which could be taught effectively when covering Indigenous Knowledge Systems (IKS), unfortunately an area under-researched and under-taught in African contexts. Creativity and critical thinking allow society a broader perspective, encourage innovative solutions to solving problems and unlock the skill to generate new and useful ideas. Creativity and critical thinking are essential for building self-awareness and agency and unlocking our collaborative futures.

Open licensing offers great promise in this regard, as historically, knowledge production and cultural narratives have been controlled by a minority. More than improving access to knowledge, open licensing can shift the power dynamic and allow more diverse people to be the creators and consumers of knowledge. By improving the diversity of the knowledge that is created, we make it more representative and therefore more accurate. As Clement notes,

When we implement OER, we must continuously ask ourselves ’whose knowledge is being foregrounded and whose view of reality is being entrenched‘ in these materials (Adam et al. 2019)? If decolonization is not foundational to OER implementation, the OER initiative betrays its own philosophy.[2]

As COVID-19 has highlighted, compounding the issues mentioned above is the digital divide, which is widening as many communities do not have access to the Internet or cannot access vital information in their own languages, thereby being excluded from global knowledge networks or participating in them only as passive consumers. However, the influx of mobile phones for access to the Internet has enabled the proliferation of OER access in Africa and beyond. Czerniewicz, Willmers, and Hodgkinson-Williams (2020) explain that, in addition to addressing the cost and lack of access to education materials,

The democratised authorship approach entailed in many forms of OER production is conducive to collaboration and peer-to-peer knowledge production. In this sense, OER can provide a mechanism through which to challenge the Western-oriented worldviews enshrined in traditional textbooks and other teaching materials, and can be used as a tool for addressing transformation in the classroom.[3]

Similarly, Adam, Bali, Hodgkinson-Williams, and Morgan make the point that it is important to critically examine ‘in whose eyes open education is deemed ”valuable”; whose knowledge is being foregrounded and whose view of reality is being entrenched?’[4] It is only through this lens that we can interrogate OERs that may be grounded in coloniality, and move towards an empowering discourse of acceptance and representation. Initiatives to decolonize curricula such as de Beer (2019) [5] provide numerous ideas for making curricula and classrooms less colonial. Examples include: incorporating indigenous knowledge into the teaching of DNA, ethnobotanical knowledge and the making of soaps in science classrooms or laboratories; featuring contextualized practices in health and and agriculture; providing project-and problem-based learning environments for students; using puppets to provide different viewpoints in school classrooms; and using indigenous technologies to solve problems.

Internationally, ‘Achieving the Dream’, which promotes student success in community colleges in the US, shows in Using Open Educational Resources how important OER are.  It suggests that, by using OER, culturally responsive educators can adapt and localize content to suit learners’ needs, translate into other languages, incorporate learner content, and ensure that it does not contain bias or stereotypes. Culturally responsive teaching comprises eight competencies, as illustrated in Figure 1. These competencies are relevant for all teaching situations. They include building on students’ prior knowledge and cultural background, accepting that there are multiple ‘ways of knowing’ beyond Western scientific knowledge, and promoting student success rather than competition and ranking.

Figure 1: Competencies for Culturally Responsive Teaching

Source: Culturally Responsive Teaching CC BY

Cultural diversity in OER can be promoted through: the exploration of innovative ways of bringing together people from culturally diverse backgrounds and different parts of the world into decision-making processes regarding OER strategy and advocacy efforts; sourcing funding for people in the global South to create and share OER; and tracking progress for any initiative, or community actions towards achieving tangible cultural diversity outcomes espoused in the OER.

Below are some key resources, websites, and portals that promote cultural diversity especially African culture and Africa-created resources.

  • WikiAfrica Education engages young Africans through local cultural organizations to create and translate content about and for Africa on Wikipedia. The goal is to get people engaged and inspired to create content for and about Africa in African languages to ensure better representation of African languages online.
  • For teacher education, the OER Africa website Teacher Education Network suggests possible resources and ways in which institutions have used OER with their students.
  • The Health Informatics Building Blocks (HIBBs) Program was designed to build workforce capacity in resource constrained environments to plan, develop, manage, and use health information and communications technology applications, with the goal of improving the delivery of health care.
  • The OER Africa Agshare collaboration programme created openly shareable different types of OER that strengthened agriculture faculties and curricula and created downstream uses of the OER for other stakeholders.
  • The African Storybook OER website and its associated apps enable writers from across the continent to develop their own storybooks and immediately publish them on the website.  It also enables translation of any of the approved existing storybooks into home languages. Already over 200 languages of Africa are represented on the website. African Storybook is then a repository of openly licensed storybooks for teachers, librarians and parents to access for young children to practise their reading. The storybooks can be read online, downloaded and printed or read offline via the African Storybook Reader App. Most of the storybooks have been developed by African authors, and they are available in multiple languages to encourage the use of home language reading.
  • Digital Open Textbooks for Development (DOT4D) is an initiative at the University of Cape Town with a social justice imperative. One of the initiative’s objectives is to ‘Support open textbook publishing activity at UCT that prioritises strategies for integrating student perspective, curriculum transformation, and sustainability.’
  • World Digital Library makes primary materials accessible. These include manuscripts, maps, photos, recordings, films, and more from countries and cultures around the world, made available online free of charge.
  • The International Library of African Music (ILAM) was established in 1954 by Hugh Tracey, at Rhodes University in South Africa. The library is one of the world’s great repositories of African music. ILAM is devoted to researching the study of music and oral arts in Africa, it preserves thousands of digitized and open accessible historical recordings collections dating as far back as 1929.
  • African Online Digital Library  (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 around the world.

Recent developments in the OER space, together with a disproportionate focus on knowledge production from the global North, highlight an urgent need to promote the cultural diversity agenda in a meaningful way that encourages equity and welcomes voices from Africa and other regions in the global South.


[2] Clement, K. (2020). Interrogating and Supplementing OER Through a Decolonized Lens. OER and beyond. https://ijoerandbeyond.org/interrogating-and-supplementing-oer-through-a-decolonized-lens/

[3] Czerniewicz, L., Willmers, M. and Hodgkinson-Williams, C. (2020). Pivoting to open education resources. University World News. Retrieved from https://www.universityworldnews.com/post.php?story=2020042910373650

[4] Adam, T., Bali, M., Hodgkinson-Williams, C. and Morgan, T. (2019). Guest Blog: Can we decolonize OER/Open? #DecolonizeOpen. OER19. Retrieved from https://oer19.oerconf.org/news/blog-can-we-decolonize-oer-open-decolonizeopen/#gref

[5] The decolonisation of the curriculum project. Retrieved from  https://doi.org/10.4102/aosis.2019.BK133

 

Access the OER Africa communications archive

The open knowledge ecosystem has seen significant growth in the last few years. This communication is about Open Science from an African perspective. It explores examples of how Open Science platforms are being constructed, together with linkages among the different forms of openness.

Image courtesy of Kiran Kumar, Creative Commons (CC BY 2.0)

The open knowledge ecosystem has seen significant growth in the last few years. UNESCO’s November 2019 Open Educational Resource (OER) Recommendation is rightly considered a groundbreaking development in support of open education practices; OER Africa has already explored the significance of the Recommendation in July 2020August 2020, and November 2020

What may be less widely known is UNESCO’s role in open knowledge more broadly – Open Access, Open Data, and Open Science. UNESCO also works to link these three ‘opens’ with OER. In UNESCO’s post on its work in support of an Open Science Recommendation, UNESCO writes about these linkages:

[The] UNESCO Recommendation on Open Science will complement the 2017 Recommendation on Science and Scientific Research. It will also build upon the UNESCO Strategy on Open Access to Scientific Information and Research and the new UNESCO Recommendation on Open Educational Resources.

OER Africa discussed Open Access publishing and Open Data in previous posts. This communication is about Open Science from an African perspective. Below you will find examples showing how Open Science platforms are being constructed, together with linkages among the different forms of openness.

Member states tasked UNESCO to develop an Open Science Recommendation at its 40th General Conference, the same one in which the OER Recommendation was approved. UNESCO began multi stakeholder consultations shortly thereafter, which will continue until September 2021.

This is UNESCO’s cogent explanation of Open Science:

The idea behind Open Science is to allow scientific information, data and outputs to be more widely accessible (Open Access) and more reliably harnessed (Open Data) with the active engagement of all the stakeholders (Open to Society).

Figure 1: Concepts linked to Open Science, UNESCO

Image adapted from Robbie Ian Morrisson, Wikimedia (CC BY)

The concept of open or openness ties together all these elements. Open Access, Open Data, OER, and open-source hardware all carry licences that permit sharing and reproduction. Open Access and OER content typically use Creative Commons licences, while Open Data licences are largely based on those written by Creative Commons. 

Indigenous Knowledge Systems are a part of the Open Science concept, but they are not always easily available to researchers, development experts, or policy makers because they have not been considered part of the development of Western empirical science. In its article on Indigenous Knowledge Systems, SciDevNet explains why Indigenous knowledge is a form of scienceand should not be ignored. UNESCO’s programme on Local and Indigenous Knowledge Systems is trying to bring indigenous knowledge into the open. It is important to bear in mind, however, that some communities are wary of theft of intellectual property by for-profit companies, and the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) is taking a leading role in helping them articulate these fears.[1]

In 2016, a preparatory pilot for the African Open Science Platform (AOSP) began. Its priorities were to:

  1. Map the current landscape of data/science initiatives in Africa. 
  2. Build a Pan-African open science community and encourage the formation of national open science fora. A notable and crucial success of the pilot in this regard was development of an African community of practice and support, which included relevant government ministries, universities, and pan-African and regional organizations. African networks, such as the African Academy of Sciences, the Network of African Science Academies, the Association of African Universities, the West and Central African Research Network (WACREN), and the UbuntuNet Alliance (the research and education network for Eastern and Southern Africa).
  3. Develop frameworks for policy, incentives, training, and technical requirements that would inform the operational platform.[2]

 

The final report was published in 2018. On 29 April 2020, the NRF announced that it would be responsible for hosting the African Open Science Platform project for the next three to five years.

The WACREN is responsible for coordinating African national and regional efforts to build the technical components of the Platform through its LIBSENSE initiative. LIBSENSE was established in 2016 to bring together African research and education networks and academic library communities to advance Open Science in Africa and foster the continent’s participation in Open Access globally.

WACREN and others draw a clear link between Open Science and Open Access, for instance using a national Open Science platform to host Open Access repositories. In a panel session at the 2021 WACREN annual conference, held virtually this year, Owen Iyoha, Managing Director of Nigeria’s Eko-Konnect made the following points about Open Science and infrastructure considerations in the figure below:

Figure 2: Open Science infrastructure for Nigeria

Eko-Konnect plans to include Moodle, the open-source learning platform on its Open Science cloud, which will allow the seamless integration of OERs created at multiple institutions.

OER and Open Science are based on a shared belief that access to knowledge should be freely, openly, and publicly available. In its draft Institutional Open Access Policy Template, LIBSENSE ties together open principles in its section on reward mechanisms by:

Setting up reward mechanisms for researchers using open science practices (e.g. sharing provisional results through open platforms, using open source software and other tools, participation in open collaborative projects, open access to publications and data, using open educational resources etc.).

However, specificity about where OER fits into Open Science is lacking. Where exactly might Open Science take advantage of OER principles and vice-versa? As a start, capacity building and training are integral to efforts to drive Open Science planning and implementation in Africa. If all training materials were openly licensed and made widely available, they would be relevant to a much broader audience and might be adapted to fit different needs. In addition, many African countries and institutions are planning Open Science clouds, including Eko-Konnect in Nigeria. All content related to platform-building could also be openly licensed. Finally, should Open Science clouds host or link to OER, at the very least the OER created for Open Science cloud training and capacity building? The bottom line is for WACREN and others working on Open Science to ensure that OER play an integral role in building OS communities and platforms.

Policy is another issue that would benefit from more sustained attention. There are proposed or actualized polices for Open Access, OER, Open Data, and now Open Science. Some African universities, particularly those in South Africa and East Africa, have their own Open Access policies. A few of these include the University of Cape Town in South Africa; Kenyatta University in Kenya; and Ethiopia, which has a national Open Access policy. LIBSENSE is also working on an Open Access template. Somewhat fewer African universities have distinct OER policies or broader policies that support OER; OER Africa tracks these examples. In addition, research networks such as the African Academy of Sciences have both Open Access and Open Data guidelines. Until now, however, most policy setting has been tackled in silos, with little sustained effort to build knowledge on what options work best. Are individual standalone policies desirable? Should they be integrated into other, existing tools rather than being developed independently? In addition, do university intellectual property policies require revision (where they exist)? 

Open Knowledge (OER, Open Access, Open Data, and Open Science) can greatly benefit African knowledge production, access, and utilisation by improving its discoverability and visibility. Open UCT at the University of Cape Town, for example, has usage statistics for each of the resources included in its repository. The National Academic Digital Repository of Ethiopia does the same.

OER Africa will continue to monitor developments, such as the ones we write about above, which impact on higher education on the continent. Please contact us here if there are additional issues you would like us to discuss.

 

 


For more articles in this series, click on the links below.