Taxpayer-funded educational resources should be open educational resources

Written by Andrew Rens on January 25th, 2018

It has been 10 years since the Cape Town Declaration described a “a global revolution” in which “educators are creating a world where each and every person on earth can access and contribute to the sum of all human knowledge. They are also planting the seeds of a new pedagogy where educators and learners create, shape and evolve knowledge together, deepening their skills and understanding as they go”. Back then I suggested that readers of this blog sign the Declaration and many did.

Many people, some whom  I know and too many whom I don’t who have made remarkable contributions to realising the world described in the Cape Town Declaration. Here is a non-representative sample of accomplishments by people who participated in the “small but lively meeting” that gave rise to the Declaration. Mark Horner built Siyavula which offers OER textbooks (8 South African curriculum aligned STEM books) and a practice service for South African high school students that will be extended to Nigeria this year. Philip Schmidt started P2PU. Cheryl Hodgkinson-Williams built a developing world network Research on Open Educational Resources for Development. Cheryl reflects on her own experience since the Declaration here.David Wiley  launched Lumen Learning which has already save college students in the United States millions of dollars through providing Open Educational Resources for their colleges.

But there is one issue which has seen surprisingly little progress over the last 10 years. For the world described by the Declaration to become a reality for millions of students and teachers all over the world the Declaration points out that it is necessary that “taxpayer-funded educational resources should be open educational resources”. Through the heroic efforts of Cable Green and others there have been important pioneering projects in which there has been public funding for Open Educational Resources. But there is far too little discussion in the OER movement of the idea that taxpayer funded educational resources should be available to taxpayers.

The Declaration sets out three strategies to realise the world it describes. The third strategy reads:

“Third, governments, school boards, colleges and universities should make open education a high priority. Ideally, taxpayer-funded educational resources should be open educational resources. Accreditation and adoption processes should give preference to open educational resources. Educational resource repositories should actively include and highlight open educational resources within their collections.”

At the time the Declaration was drafted I was dubious about prefacing ” taxpayer-funded educational resources should be open educational resources” with “Ideally”. Would those who stand to lose out on profits or power agree in principle but then eviscerate the application by claiming less than ideal circumstances every single time there was a possibility that tax-payers might be able to use the resources which were created with their money? That hasn’t happened yet. In years of research on open educational resources as a public policy I haven’t encountered any actual arguments for why taxpayer funded educational resources should not be open in principle. Nor have I encountered arguments that taxpayer funded resources should be open but not in particular circumstances. Instead of arguments there has been a continuation of the previous system, unexamined, unquestioned.

This will only change when people who agree with the Cape Town Declaration insist that taxpayer-funded educational resources should be open educational resources.

CPT+10   sets out how this can happen.


Why did it take so long?

Written by Andrew Rens on December 4th, 2017

Why is an economist of the stature of Joseph Stiglitz talking about South African intellectual property policy, specifically the Draft Intellectual Property Policy? The draft policy sets out something of a legislative agenda for amending the Patent Act. Remember the Patent Act, passed in 1979 and not substantively changed since then. Back in 2013 I wrote about a Draft Intellectual Property Policy and an accompanying call for comments. There isn’t a straight line between that document and the one Stiglitz spoke about. In July 2016 the Cabinet approved a policy document entitled the Intellectual Property Consultative Framework and it is that document which is the origin of the current draft policy.

Stiglitz described the policy as “one of the most advanced proposals I have seen”. How did something as arcane as intellectual property any public attention? You may for course believe that it recieves too little or perhaps too much but it is undeniable to that it receives some. In a fascinating interview Zachie Achmat, a veteran of the anti-apartheid struggle discusses the start a social movement for access to medicines.  That movement brought attention to patents from a wide variety of people who had not being paying attention to patents before. Anyone interested in patents should read the interview.

At one point the interviewer asks why it has taken 25 years of activism to get to the 2017 policy. Achmat responds that civil society is weak. He may well be right but I am not entirely satisfied with that answer. Access to life saving medicines is crucial for a developing country. What parts could other constituencies in South Africa have played differently so that the this eminently solvable problem would already have been solved?  Asking this I don’t intend to simply blame ‘government’ as if that is a single entity with a unified understanding of the world. Instead this is a question for the rest of us too.