UNESCO supports Member States to leverage OER to build crisis-resilient learning systems

The disruption caused by the COVID-19 pandemic highlighted the importance of sharing learning and knowledge openly worldwide. To guide Member States in leveraging Open Educational Resources (OER) to respond to these new challenges, UNESCO organized a webinar on 27 and 28 July focused on the development of national OER policies and strategies  that gathered over 200 participants, including key stakeholders from national governments and  the international OER community.

This webinar, organized by the Unit for Technology and Artificial Intelligence in education, is part of UNESCO’s long-term commitment to the promotion of OER, which resulted in the adoption of the Recommendation on OER by its General Conference in November 2019 and, at the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, a Call for Joint Action urging the global community to support the use of OER.

Opening the event, Ms Stefania Giannini, UNESCO’s Assistant Director-General for Education, recognized the central role played by OER in the emergency response to school closures due to the COVID-19 pandemic. “UNESCO firmly believes that OER should play a more important role in digital learning policies in the post-pandemic era.  The verdict from this historic learning disruption experienced over the past 18 months is unequivocal: it is high time to rethink our models of delivering school education. There is shared understanding on the need to leverage technologies to build crisis-resilient learning systems based on three pillars: technology, content, and human capacity, especially that of teachers. “

Joining Ms Giannini in the opening through a video message, Mr John Fordjour, Deputy-Minister of Education of Ghana, shared his enthusiasm: “We need everyone to understand what OER is, OER is not limited to digital resources. OER can be a huge opportunity for Ghana because we can make the resources relevant to our context.” Among other countries, the Government of Ghana, through the Minister of Education, Dr. Yaw Osei Adutwum, is forming a national team for the development of the national OER policy and digital policy.

Mr Fengchun Miao, Chief of the Unit for Technology and AI in Education of UNESCO, presented an overview of the Orgnization’s actions in the area. These include the development of Guidelines on the Development of OER Policies (2018), standard setting instruments such as the OER Recommendation adopted by UNESCO’s General Conference in 2019; Mobile Learning Week, the UN’s flagship event on ICT in education, and capacity development through the OER Dynamic Coalition. Mr Miao reviewed the evolving contexts for OER policies in terms of governance and in the development of crisis resilient learning systems and walked through a framework on developing OER policies and masterplans. UNESCO has supported 20 countries in developing OER policies, with work continuing through initiatives such as the UNESCO-Korean Funds-in-Trust (KFIT) project “ICT transforming education in Africa”, the UNESCO-Huawei Funds-in-Trust project “Technology-enabled open schools for all” or the Global Digital Library and Translate a Story initiative, in cooperation with the Norwegian Agency for Development Cooperation (Norad).

Ms Zeynep Varoglu, Programme Specialist in the Digital Innovation and Transformation Section at UNESCO, focused on the OER Dynamic Coalition and its contribution to policy development in the area of OER.

Throughout the webinar, representatives from Ethiopia, Ghana and Madagascar shared their experiences and lessons learnt on the development of ICT and OER policies. As an example of a top-down approach on OER policy blended with a bottom-up implementation, Madagascar presented its national OER strategy developed by three ministries (Education, Technical Education and Vocational Training and Higher Education and Scientific Research), with representatives of the national authorities responsible of copyright protection and intellectual property, in collaboration with UNESCO. Ghana presented the ongoing OER related activities supported by UNESCO in the framework of the KFIT project including the development of national OER policy.

A glance at partners’ initiatives in the area of OER

To illustrate the bottom-up approach on OER, partners from the South African Institute for Distance Education (SAIDE) presented the African Storybook Initiative leveraging OER to support early literacy in Africa. SAIDE built a website responsive to different devices, to store and provide access to storybooks for free, with open tools to create or translate storybooks, for both teachers and learners. The vast majority of the books reflects local contexts and has been written by the African communities.

Mr Cable Green, Director of Open Education at Creative Commons, reviewed the essentials of OER, and in particular, the specifics of open licenses, which allow no-cost access, re-use, re-purpose, adaptation and redistribution by others. Creative Commons has been working on open education with UNESCO, other international organizations, national governments and civil society organizations for 20 years.

Mr Werner Westermann, OER expert and chief of the Civic Education Program at the Library of National Congress in Chile, detailed the steps and offered some suggestions on how to undertake an OER gap analysis and assess the readiness of an education system to take up OER through the example of Chile.

The presentations sparked many questions from participants, leading to a dynamic discussion amongst the panellists. Many raised the issue of connectivity, arguing that OER platforms must take into consideration the varying contexts, in particular those who have limited access to internet services and electricity.  As Mr Firmin Edouard Matoko, UNESCO’s Assistant Director-General for Priority Africa and External Relations pointed out in his closing remarks, the issue of digital transformation is particularly acute. UNESCO is committed to ensure that technological progress is accompanied by social progress, especially for the underserved communities.

Moving forward, UNESCO headquarters and field offices will continue to cooperate with Member States until the OER polices are developed and launched.

The webinar was organized with support from UNESCO Africa Department, as well as the national teams of the UNESCO-Korean Funds-in-Trust (KFIT) project “ICT transforming education in Africa” and the UNESCO-Huawei Funds-in-Trust project “Technology-enabled open schools for all” in Côte d’Ivoire, Egypt, Ethiopia, Ghana and Senegal. Thanks to the funds provided by the Republic of Korea and Huawei, UNESCO is supporting the testing of open school models in those countries.

The 2019 Recommendation calls on actions in five areas: (i) Building the capacity of stakeholders to create, access, re-use, adapt and redistribute OER; (ii) Developing supportive policy for OER; (iii) Encouraging inclusive and equitable quality OER; (iv) Nurturing the creation of sustainability models for OER; and (v) Promoting and reinforcing international cooperation in OER.

To see the full discussion, you can watch the webinars in English and French at the following links: