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The New Times – Rwanda
By: Gitura Mwaura
East Africa has a number of virtual universities and other institutions with open education resources (OER) repositories and portals. However, one does not often get to hear much about them. This is puzzling, they should be in the open touting their potential.
How much would the Open University of Tanzania (OUT) offer East Africans, for example? How about the African Virtual University (AVU) in Kenya?
Rwanda, in the meantime, is entrenching open online education, including OER. The University of Rwanda has early last year been offering online resources and tools.
UNESCO, the UN body driving the cause, notes that since 2002 when the term Open Educational Resources (OER) first emerged, OER has increasingly been recognized by the international community as an innovative tool for meeting the challenges of providing lifelong learning opportunities for learners from diverse levels and modes of education worldwide.
It defines OER as teaching, learning and research materials in any medium – digital or otherwise – that reside in the public domain or have been released under an open license that permits no-cost access, use, adaptation and redistribution by others with no or limited restrictions.
In 2012, the World OER Congress that is spearheaded saw the launch of the Paris OER Declaration, which calls on governments worldwide to use open licences for publicly funded educational materials.
Uptake was a bit slow, however. Thus, five years later the 2nd World OER Congress in 2017 was held with the objective to identify the status and challenges to mainstreaming OER, as well as encourage governments to commit to adopting open licensing policies for educational materials developed with public funds.
Findings from a survey presented at the congress in the 2017 World OER Report suggested increased countries’ support for OER policies – from 45 per cent in 2012 to 55 per cent in 2017. Over half (59%) of the respondents indicated that their country was contemplating policy development for OER.
The report, however, notes that while there are many more OER repositories of educational resources today, there is a general lack of awareness about them and, therefore, not optimally used.
Perhaps this explains our case in the region for many of us being out of the loop about our own virtual repositories.
This shows the need for promoting the repositories. The best way to do so, according to the report, is through educating the stakeholders and improving the “discoverability” of these resources.
There’s also common concern in the survey about those who should be making information available. The survey brought out lack of users’ capacity to use and integrate OER in teaching and learning. This highlights the need for the continuous capacity building of teachers to understand, find and use OER.
In Africa, the report says, a key priority is also to address is the relevance and accessibility to OER. Textbooks are expensive, often outdated, and do not reflect local contexts. This means there is a need to consider ways for translating and contextualising material to address local needs.
It also notes there is a need to bridge the digital divide and focus on providing electricity and reliable bandwidth. In terms of OER activity, much focus appears to be on developing teacher capacity and integrating OER into open and distance learning (ODL) practices, with ODL policies making provision for OER adoption.
Policy plays an important role, as funding is attached to policy, and therefore coherent policies and strategies for adopting OER are required.
Another priority for Africa is to focus on awareness-raising and capacity building, focusing on the sustainability of projects after funding dries up and considering the potential role of libraries and librarians in mainstreaming OER.
One of the recommendations urges the promotion of understanding and use of open licensing frameworks. The system of licences developed by the Creative Commons organisations is currently the most popular way to make OER available to the public.
However, awareness about copyright and open licensing is limited. 43 per cent of respondents reported not using any licence in the material they release as OER.
Another recommendation is to support capacity building for the sustainable development of quality learning materials. Governments and educational institutions need to invest systematically in programme, course and materials development and acquisition for it to become sustainable and effectively used.