The Marovo Reef and Rainforest Project: Online Wiki and Open Educational Resources (OER)
Central to the mandate of UNESCO is the promotion of multilingualism and local content in cyberspace. UNESCO plays a leading role in the implementation and outcomes of the World Summit on the Information Society (WSIS), which aim to bridge the digital/knowledge divide. In this framework, UNESCO continues to promote indigenous languages and cultural diversity through new forms of media and technology.
The second phase of the Marovo Reef and Rainforest Project, dedicated to the creation of an online wiki and open educational resources (OER), is testament to UNESCO’s commitment to using new technology to promote multilingualism and local content in cyberspace. The project harnesses the connections between communication and information, education, and cultural and biological diversity, enhancing the capacity of local communities to transmit local environmental knowledge using online communication tools.
An urgent task often facing educational systems is how to devise locally relevant curricula that can bridge the widening gaps between village realities and the school, while also considering the need to bridge the digital/knowledge divide and the possibilities inherent to information and communication technologies. The Marovo Project is unique because of its association of an exceptional resource in support of Pacific Islander language and knowledge (the Marovo Encyclopaedia with its 1,200+ ecological terms in vernacular), and a creative delivery mechanism for remote rural schools that fosters indigenous knowledge as a living and dynamic resource owned by the communities themselves (the Marovo wiki and OER). This pilot project, which was implemented over 2010-2011, was, therefore, of considerable significance not only for Solomon Islands, but also for countries and sites across the Pacific where there is a demand for quality education that reinforces vernacular languages and local content.
In the framework of this project and in order to further promote the use of the Internet for transmission of local knowledge UNESCO developed a dedicated wiki version of the Reef and Rainforest Marovo Encyclopaedia. Local contributions to the wiki were made in various electronic formats. Additionally, guidance and training was given to the teachers on how to manage educational activities that generate such content. This was done through initial drafting of some example lesson plans, and the provision of a WikiEducator-based portal with tools for creating lesson plans from templates – thus empowering the on-going development of the educational use of the Marovo wiki.
The lesson plans were drafted with attention to strict criteria in line with identified objectives of the current Solomon Islands National Education Action Plan (NEAP) and Strategic Development Plan. A server computer was installed at Patukae, with some strengthening of the solar power supply. It was made accessible not only to Patukae but to any school connected over the Wi-Fi. Schools and other contributors were taught to upload their content to the local server that is moderated before being uploaded to the online wiki.
The original 2005 Reef and Rainforest project provided a model for indigenous knowledge management and preservation, and resulted in the production of a rich local language resource with accompanying guidance for teachers to support the country’s vernacular education policy. The new project phase (2010-2011) has provided the ability for schools and communities to contribute to and improve the resource by creating lesson plans and hence engendering real ownership of the process as well as the resource. Through the workshops, teachers have collaborated with each other, and with the Ministry, to develop material that is in line with specified educational objectives, along with mentoring, monitoring and quality assurance.
The lesson plans were licensed as open educational resources which are any type of educational materials released with an open content license. The open nature of these lesson plans allows any other user to freely and legally copy, use, adapt and further share their adaptations. Potential users include motivated teachers from other schools in the Solomon Islands or any school in the world with an interest in how to effectively teach environmental concepts.
From the viewpoint of curriculum development, the project succeeded in providing high quality lesson plans compliant with national goals and objectives as well as a rich demonstration of the potentials of Open Educational Resources (OER) and related technologies. Marovo educators have championed the use of ICTs to enhance the role of vernacular and indigenous knowledge transmission in education.
Teanau Tuiono, project coordinator, states:
There is a lot of potential for this particular project because you are dealing with the possibility of looking at similar and often the same biological species from different cultural perspectives. In this way you know that there is not just a couple of paragraphs stuck on a page, but there is an open educational resource, which means it can be used, adapted, translated and expanded. It is a common language you’re using; original communities can look at it and offer a different perspective or learn from other communities as well.
21 February, International Mother Language Day, is an opportunity to reflect on the link between mother language, cultural identity, cultural diversity and the role ICTs play in protecting and promoting the links between them. As Director-General of UNESCO, Irina Bokova, states in her message on the occasion of the Day, “Our generation has the advantage of having new communication media and a new Internet-based worldwide public arena - we should not accept any impoverishment of languages.”
The Marovo Reef and Rainforest Project: Online Wiki and Open Educational Resources (OER) is one such example of ensuring the richness of language on the Internet by demonstrating the essential role communication and information play in promoting mother languages around the world.