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At OER Africa we were encouraged to see that the UNESCO Recommendation on OER aims to facilitate international cooperation to 'develop a global pool of culturally diverse, locally relevant, gender-sensitive, accessible, educational materials in multiple languages and formats'. This is a powerful ideal, and OER Africa has been grappling with the complexities surrounding diversity promotion. We have written this article in the hope that it contributes to an ongoing conversation – within our initiative and beyond – on diversity in the OER space.

Cultural diversity refers to the practice of including people from varied socio-economic, racial, ethnic, and cultural backgrounds, as well as people of different genders and sexual orientations. This article will focus predominantly on inclusion of people from Africa and the global South.

On 21 May, we celebrated World Day for Cultural Diversity for Dialogue and Development. Despite this, African resources, as well as its people and its languages are underrepresented in global digital knowledge networks. To take one example: Wikipedia has more articles about Paris than it does about the whole of Africa.[1] In addition to a lack of African content, African narratives are often written by people outside Africa, enforcing biases in the content with which Africans engage and in how Africa is represented.

Without knowledge and narratives created by people from Africa, Africans are, from a very young age, prevented from experiencing an accurate representation of their world, in their languages, and from being able to contribute to developing such a representation. This is exacerbated by education systems that are not yet systematically (or systemically) developing the skills young Africans need to contribute to global knowledge networks. These skills include creativity and critical thinking, which could be taught effectively when covering Indigenous Knowledge Systems (IKS), unfortunately an area under-researched and under-taught in African contexts. Creativity and critical thinking allow society a broader perspective, encourage innovative solutions to solving problems and unlock the skill to generate new and useful ideas. Creativity and critical thinking are essential for building self-awareness and agency and unlocking our collaborative futures.

Open licensing offers great promise in this regard, as historically, knowledge production and cultural narratives have been controlled by a minority. More than improving access to knowledge, open licensing can shift the power dynamic and allow more diverse people to be the creators and consumers of knowledge. By improving the diversity of the knowledge that is created, we make it more representative and therefore more accurate. As Clement notes,

When we implement OER, we must continuously ask ourselves ’whose knowledge is being foregrounded and whose view of reality is being entrenched‘ in these materials (Adam et al. 2019)? If decolonization is not foundational to OER implementation, the OER initiative betrays its own philosophy.[2]

As COVID-19 has highlighted, compounding the issues mentioned above is the digital divide, which is widening as many communities do not have access to the Internet or cannot access vital information in their own languages, thereby being excluded from global knowledge networks or participating in them only as passive consumers. However, the influx of mobile phones for access to the Internet has enabled the proliferation of OER access in Africa and beyond. Czerniewicz, Willmers, and Hodgkinson-Williams (2020) explain that, in addition to addressing the cost and lack of access to education materials,

The democratised authorship approach entailed in many forms of OER production is conducive to collaboration and peer-to-peer knowledge production. In this sense, OER can provide a mechanism through which to challenge the Western-oriented worldviews enshrined in traditional textbooks and other teaching materials, and can be used as a tool for addressing transformation in the classroom.[3]

Similarly, Adam, Bali, Hodgkinson-Williams, and Morgan make the point that it is important to critically examine ‘in whose eyes open education is deemed ”valuable”; whose knowledge is being foregrounded and whose view of reality is being entrenched?’[4] It is only through this lens that we can interrogate OERs that may be grounded in coloniality, and move towards an empowering discourse of acceptance and representation. Initiatives to decolonize curricula such as de Beer (2019) [5] provide numerous ideas for making curricula and classrooms less colonial. Examples include: incorporating indigenous knowledge into the teaching of DNA, ethnobotanical knowledge and the making of soaps in science classrooms or laboratories; featuring contextualized practices in health and and agriculture; providing project-and problem-based learning environments for students; using puppets to provide different viewpoints in school classrooms; and using indigenous technologies to solve problems.

Internationally, ‘Achieving the Dream’, which promotes student success in community colleges in the US, shows in Using Open Educational Resources how important OER are.  It suggests that, by using OER, culturally responsive educators can adapt and localize content to suit learners’ needs, translate into other languages, incorporate learner content, and ensure that it does not contain bias or stereotypes. Culturally responsive teaching comprises eight competencies, as illustrated in Figure 1. These competencies are relevant for all teaching situations. They include building on students’ prior knowledge and cultural background, accepting that there are multiple ‘ways of knowing’ beyond Western scientific knowledge, and promoting student success rather than competition and ranking.

Figure 1: Competencies for Culturally Responsive Teaching

Source: Culturally Responsive Teaching CC BY

Cultural diversity in OER can be promoted through: the exploration of innovative ways of bringing together people from culturally diverse backgrounds and different parts of the world into decision-making processes regarding OER strategy and advocacy efforts; sourcing funding for people in the global South to create and share OER; and tracking progress for any initiative, or community actions towards achieving tangible cultural diversity outcomes espoused in the OER.

Below are some key resources, websites, and portals that promote cultural diversity especially African culture and Africa-created resources.

  • WikiAfrica Education engages young Africans through local cultural organizations to create and translate content about and for Africa on Wikipedia. The goal is to get people engaged and inspired to create content for and about Africa in African languages to ensure better representation of African languages online.
  • For teacher education, the OER Africa website Teacher Education Network suggests possible resources and ways in which institutions have used OER with their students.
  • The Health Informatics Building Blocks (HIBBs) Program was designed to build workforce capacity in resource constrained environments to plan, develop, manage, and use health information and communications technology applications, with the goal of improving the delivery of health care.
  • The OER Africa Agshare collaboration programme created openly shareable different types of OER that strengthened agriculture faculties and curricula and created downstream uses of the OER for other stakeholders.
  • The African Storybook OER website and its associated apps enable writers from across the continent to develop their own storybooks and immediately publish them on the website.  It also enables translation of any of the approved existing storybooks into home languages. Already over 200 languages of Africa are represented on the website. African Storybook is then a repository of openly licensed storybooks for teachers, librarians and parents to access for young children to practise their reading. The storybooks can be read online, downloaded and printed or read offline via the African Storybook Reader App. Most of the storybooks have been developed by African authors, and they are available in multiple languages to encourage the use of home language reading.
  • Digital Open Textbooks for Development (DOT4D) is an initiative at the University of Cape Town with a social justice imperative. One of the initiative’s objectives is to ‘Support open textbook publishing activity at UCT that prioritises strategies for integrating student perspective, curriculum transformation, and sustainability.’
  • World Digital Library makes primary materials accessible. These include manuscripts, maps, photos, recordings, films, and more from countries and cultures around the world, made available online free of charge.
  • The International Library of African Music (ILAM) was established in 1954 by Hugh Tracey, at Rhodes University in South Africa. The library is one of the world’s great repositories of African music. ILAM is devoted to researching the study of music and oral arts in Africa, it preserves thousands of digitized and open accessible historical recordings collections dating as far back as 1929.
  • African Online Digital Library  (AODL) is an open access digital library of African cultural heritage materials created by Michigan State University in collaboration with museums, archives, scholars, and communities around the world.

Recent developments in the OER space, together with a disproportionate focus on knowledge production from the global North, highlight an urgent need to promote the cultural diversity agenda in a meaningful way that encourages equity and welcomes voices from Africa and other regions in the global South.


[2] Clement, K. (2020). Interrogating and Supplementing OER Through a Decolonized Lens. OER and beyond. https://ijoerandbeyond.org/interrogating-and-supplementing-oer-through-a-decolonized-lens/

[3] Czerniewicz, L., Willmers, M. and Hodgkinson-Williams, C. (2020). Pivoting to open education resources. University World News. Retrieved from https://www.universityworldnews.com/post.php?story=2020042910373650

[4] Adam, T., Bali, M., Hodgkinson-Williams, C. and Morgan, T. (2019). Guest Blog: Can we decolonize OER/Open? #DecolonizeOpen. OER19. Retrieved from https://oer19.oerconf.org/news/blog-can-we-decolonize-oer-open-decolonizeopen/#gref

[5] The decolonisation of the curriculum project. Retrieved from  https://doi.org/10.4102/aosis.2019.BK133

 

Access the OER Africa communications archive

What's New

What have been the experiences of African Open Educational Resources (OER) initiatives focussed on higher education? What can we learn from these experiences? Although the concept of OER initially gained publicity in the Global North, OER are gaining traction in Africa. OER Africa researched several African OER initiatives to assess their long-term contribution to establishing sustainable OER practices in African higher education.

What have been the experiences of African Open Educational Resources (OER) initiatives focussed on higher education? What can we learn from these experiences? Although the concept of OER initially gained publicity in the Global North, OER are gaining traction in Africa, with an increasing number of OER initiatives focusing on areas such as OER advocacy, practice, and research. Today, the concept has been mainstreamed around the world, as exemplified through the unanimous adoption of the UNESCO Recommendation on OER in 2019.

OER Africa researched several African OER initiatives to assess their long-term contribution to establishing sustainable OER practices in African higher education. This work explored their effectiveness and identified lessons to enable better development and support of OER practices. It also helped to deepen OER Africa’s understanding of professional development needs amongst African academics to enable more effective OER practices.

To do this, we developed case studies on eleven African OER initiatives in higher education to gain an understanding of the effectiveness of each initiative, followed by an analytical summary report. The report collates the findings from the OER initiatives , highlighting the implications of the findings for better development and support for effective OER practices.

Access the case studies and report here.


Related articles:

 Access the OER Africa communications archive here

Museums tell ancient and recent histories as they collect, safeguard, and make accessible artefacts and specimens that they hold in trust to inspire and enable people to explore, learn, and enjoy. They continue to evolve in their roles and contribution to education as they embrace open access and Open Educational Resource (OER) principles.

Image courtesy of Abdullah Elhariry, Unsplash (Unsplash licence)

Museums continue to evolve in their roles and contribution to education as they embrace open access and Open Educational Resource (OER) principles. Museums are joining the open access movement by, for example, providing high-resolution downloadable images free of charge to maximise the ability of people to interact with, share, and reuse their collections.  

Museums tell ancient and recent histories as they collect, safeguard, and make accessible artefacts and specimens that they hold in trust to inspire and enable people to explore, learn, and enjoy. All museums support education as they provide unique prospects and platforms to engage students in their spaces and through their exhibitions, presentations, lectures, and discussion sessions on history, science, mathematics, technology, medicine, arts, politics, religion, humanities and social sciences, among others.

The Shenzhen Declaration on Museums and Collections of the UNESCO High-Level Forum on Museums from 2016 promoted the educational role of museums and the adaptation of museums' contents to provide a variety of formal, non-formal, and lifelong open learning experiences through universal accessibility for various audiences and removal of barriers to disadvantaged groups and persons with specific needs and capacities.

Learning about history and culture includes learning about all the aspects of the human ‘being’ and their day-to-day life. For example, if a student visits a museum and explores an exhibition dealing with historical figures or events involving aviation, the student is likely to be intrigued to want to learn more about flying which may not have been introduced as a vocation in the classroom. In such a case, the museum experience could well be an initial influence on future life choices of the students.

Museums are adopting open access to increase public engagement with their collections, introduce news areas of operation, and collaborate with creators and other institutions of learning, including universities, colleges, and schools.

The challenges of COVID-19 lockdowns in the past two years left museums without visitors, prompting them to accelerate digitization of their collections and adopt open licences for learners and academics to access their holdings as part of their learning or academic research. Since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, nearly 1,000 cultural heritage institutions around the world have adopted open licences to provide virtual access to their collections and resources.

Open access for museums refers to efforts made by museums to digitise their collections allowing for the creation of virtual exhibitions and databases or libraries, which are accessible online, containing high-resolution downloadable collections of digitised images of artefacts and information resources, including text, photos, movies, audio files, maps, graphs, and links to other sites.

Some of the digitised museum collections for Africa and African resources include the following:

African Online Digital Library (AODL) – AODL is an open access digital library of African cultural heritage materials created by Michigan State University in collaboration with museums, archives, scholars, and communities globally.

Smithsonian Open Access National Museum of African American History & Culture – The Smithsonian Institution is the world’s largest museum, education, and research complex, with 21 museums and the National Zoo—shaping the future by preserving heritage, discovering new knowledge, and sharing resources with the world. The Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture is exclusively devoted to the documentation of the African American life, history, and culture. The museum has collected more than 40,000 artefacts. The images and data are in the public domain under the Creative Commons Zero (CC0) licence, allowing use, transformation, and sharing of the open access assets without asking permission from the Smithsonian.

COM Library - African Art – This hub of open access resources for African art features Google Arts and Culture content from over 1,000 leading museum and archives that have partnered with Google Cultural Institute to bring the world’s treasures online. 

Adoption of open access and OER principles by museums increases the diffusion of knowledge for both education and information. It helps students, researchers, and education providers access unique material locked up in museums all over the world. Open access can also help provide the education sector in Africa access to some of Africa’s artefacts in many museums in the global north collected during colonialism.


Related articles:

OER Africa coordinated a project with members of the Network of Open Orgs, a coalition of organizations that meets regularly on implementing and supporting the UNESCO OER Recommendation. The project involved a collaborative effort among several members of the Network to develop a set of seven research summaries that explore the success of OER.

Advocates of Open Educational Resources (OER) often promote their perceived benefits, such as increasing access to educational materials; improving scalability and circulation of resources; and providing opportunities to adapt resources to suit learners’ needs and contexts. However, the past five years alone have seen significant shifts in education systems. Transformative forces such as the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, leaps in technology development, and global economic reconfiguration mean that now more than ever, education systems need to remain dynamic and responsive.

Key to this responsiveness is ensuring that there is ongoing research on the actual benefits of using OER, so that we can gain a comprehensive, measured understanding of its implementation, benefits, challenges, and lessons. Such research can provide insight on how to most effectively implement the goals of the UNESCO OER Recommendation.

Within this context, OER Africa coordinated a project with members of the Network of Open Orgs, a coalition of organizations that meets regularly on implementing and supporting the UNESCO OER Recommendation. The project involved a collaborative effort among several members of the Network to develop a set of seven research summaries that explore the success of OER. The summaries were then analysed to extract key findings, which were presented in a short report.

The Network aims to make such analyses an ongoing activity to remain abreast of OER implementation around the world. Ultimately, this will assist in realising the goals of the OER Recommendation.

Access the case studies and summary report here.