Open Educational Resources Congress passes historic declaration

“In this room we share a common dream of everyone in the world getting access to high quality education,” Cable Green, Creative Commons - CC-BY

This June, Ministers of Education, senior policy makers, expert practitioners, researchers and relevant stakeholders from around the world gathered for the 2012 World Open Educational Resources (OER) Congress at UNESCO Headquarters in Paris to pass the 2012 Paris OER Declaration. 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.

The conference showcased innovative policies and initiatives that demonstrate the potential of OER to improve communities.

Catherine Ngugi, OER Africa (Kenya) - CC-BY

  • Harvard professor and Creative Commons founder Lawrence Lessig spoke about the life-saving potential of openly sharing academic medical research.
  • Catherine Ngugi of OER Africa demonstrated how universities across Africa are collaborating to provide better education to health care professionals.
  • Professor Anant Agarwal presented edX, a recently launched open and online learning system developed by MIT and Harvard University. The edX vision is to educate one billion people worldwide.
  • Researchers from Korean University presented their platform for collaborative wiki-style translations used for classroom resources.
  • In Grenada OERs are being used to improve education by encouraging a culture of collaboration among teachers.

In preparation for the 2012 World OER Congress, regional forums were held with government policy makers in the Caribbean, Africa, Latin America, Europe, Asia and Pacific, and the Arab States. The forums revealed that many local institutions and governments were already incorporating OERs to improve their education.

John Daniel, Project Director, Fostering Governmental Support for OER Globally - CC-BY

Sir John Daniel reported the key priorities from the forums at the Congress, including:

  • ensuring that all countries are enabled to contribute to OER, not just developed counties;
  • sharing OER across languages;
  • encouraging the private sector and NGOs to participate in OER development;
  • engaging governments, who are the primary investors in textbooks and educational materials, in developing plans that provide incentives to release publicly funded materials as OER.

Delila Coelho, a PhD student from Portugal is doing research on OER in developing countries:

It is really a unique opportunity to meet stakeholders from all over the world, from high level to practitioners to researchers. Brazil is many, many steps ahead from Portugal, for instance. They have this complete perspective of approaching the theme globally as a national policy. It was interesting to see how many different stakeholders have enrolled in the process.

Following the Congress, a paper published by J.M. Pawlowski and T.Hoel discussed the projected impact of the 2012 Paris OER Declaration. The paper outlines each of the ten main points of the declaration, and explains their expected implications. “The Paris OER Declaration can be a big step forward towards access to education.” The authors suggest a number of specific actions to promote OER on both the governmental and user levels such as developing standards for OER implementation, providing workshops for education decision-makers and creating a common base for OER research. “As this process gathers momentum, the OER movement will create great synergies for access, collaborations and quality of learning, education and training.”

In 2015, the Millennium OER Conference will highlight additional Member States who have adopted OER policies on the national level.

The 2012 World OER Congress was organized in full partnership with the Commonwealth of Learning (COL) with the generous support of the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation.

More information about the 2012 World OER Congress, including webcast recordings and presentations, can be found on the Congress website.

Pre-congress event: the participants are introduced to OER - CC-BY

Open Educational Resources, known as OER, are any type of educational materials that are in the public domain or released with an open license that allows users to legally and freely use, copy, adapt and re-share. OER present a strategic opportunity to improve the quality of education as well as facilitate policy dialogue, knowledge sharing and capacity building.

The term OER was coined just 10 years ago at UNESCO’s Global Forum on the Impact of OpenCourseware on Higher Education. Also in Paris, the 2002 event brought together a diverse group of university representatives and key experts from the Commonwealth of Learning, the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, The William and Flora Hewlett Foundation, and more. These early stakeholders recognized the vital role that openly sharing knowledge could play in providing universal access to education, and affirmed that open access to education was a human right:

At the conclusion of the Forum on the Impact of Open Courseware for Higher Education in Developing Countries … the participants expressed … their wish to develop together a universal educational resource … to be referred to henceforth as Open Educational Resources.

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