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OER Africa was very pleased to note that UNESCO OER Recommendation (40 C/32) was adopted at the 40th UNESCO General Conference in Paris on 25th November 2019. The formal Recommendation is yet to be posted online by UNESCO but the text can be found here. Approval of the Recommendation represents a significant recognition of the concept of open educational resources (OER) and its potential in education by governments around the world. While 34 Recommendations have been adopted since UNESCO’s inception in 1945, only seven of these pertain to education, so this represents a rare achievement for the OER movement.

OER Africa is proud to have been actively engaged in development of the OER Recommendation. Although the origins of the process may be said to date back to when the term was first coined was first coined in 2002 at UNESCO's Forum on the Impact of Open Courseware for Higher Education in Developing Countries, the first meaningful effort to achieve consensus over global positions on OER took place at the first World OER Congress in Paris in 2012, which led to adoption at the Congress of the Paris OER Declaration 2012. OER Africa participated actively in the work leading up to this Declaration, conducting research on the status of government OER policies, participating in regional workshops leading up to the Congress, and helping with drafting of the Declaration. As the UNESCO website notes, ‘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’. However, as a Congress Declaration, it has no official status as a UNESCO document.
 
Following from this, a Second World OER Congress was organized in Llubljana, Slovenia in 2017, an event in which OER Africa was again actively involved (conducting further research on the status of OER globally, participating in regional consultation workshops, and playing an active role in the Congress programme and drafting of the Second World OER Congress Ljubljana OER Action Plan 2017
 
This Congress initiated development of a first draft of the UNESCO OER Recommendation for public consultation, with OER Africa having participated in the drafting of this document at a special meeting of experts that took place alongside the UNESCO Mobile Learning Week in 2018. Following receipt of public comments, a second expert meeting took place alongside Mobile Learning Week in 2019, in which OER Africa again participated actively, which culminated in publication of the first official draft of the UNESCO OER Recommendation in April, 2019. As UNESCO Recommendations are ultimately inter-governmental agreements, this version was circulated to governments for their comments and discussed at an Intergovernmental Meeting for the Draft Recommendation in Paris in May 2019, to which all member states of UNESCO were invited and 150 delegates from 100 countries participated. OER Africa was able to attend and contribute to the meeting as an invited expert observer, though UNESCO procedures require that changes to a draft Recommendation can only be made with agreement by all member state representatives.
 
At the May 2019 meeting, the final text of the OER Recommendation was approved by consensus by all Member States and thereafter prepared for formal submission to the 4th UNESCO General Conference in November, 2019, where it was adopted. As the UNESCO website notes, 
'Recommendations are instruments in which ‘the General Conference formulates principles and norms for the international regulation of any particular question and invites Member States to take whatever legislative or other steps may be required in conformity with the constitutional practice of each State and the nature of the question under consideration to apply the principles and norms aforesaid within their respective territories’ (Article 1 (b)). These are therefore norms which are not subject to ratification but which Member States are invited to apply. Emanating from the Organization's supreme governing body and hence possessing great authority, recommendations are intended to influence the development of national laws and practices.'
 
Thus, while not legally binding, Recommendations are important documents within UNESCO and member states are obliged to report to the General Conference on their progress in implementing them. Given this, adoption of the OER Recommendation is a major achievement and one which OER Africa is proud to have contributed.
 
Since the Recommendation was approved, there have inevitably been some criticisms of the final text that was adopted (see, for example, critiques by David Wiley and Stephen Downes). These critiques tend to focus on compromises that were made during the drafting process of the Recommendation that may have the consequence of allowing some ‘closed’ practices to creep into implementation of the Recommendation by governments. While there is technical validity to these critiques, our view at OER Africa is that the OER Recommendation is important for the spirit of what it encourages governments to do, rather than in its specific technical details. As Recommendations are not legally binding on states, those governments that wish to undermine that spirit are more likely to do so by ignoring the OER Recommendation than by seeking to subvert its intent. And the compromises made were an essential part of the process of securing the necessary consensus to adoption of the final OER Recommendation (as we saw clearly during the Intergovernmental Meeting in May, 2019 where the final text was agreed). Consequently, as OER Africa, we believe that these technical limitations are relatively minor in the overall movement towards openness that adoption of the UNESCO OER Recommendation represents. Thus, we are excited to continue our work, and to continue supporting UNESCO and its government in implementing their work, in our joint efforts to harness open licensing to improve access to high quality education for all Africans.

What's New

We hope that you are doing well and staying safe as South Africa and many other Sub-Saharan African countries adapt to closure of schools and other educational institutions in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

As people practise social distancing and implement new routines at home, OER Africa would like to reiterate its support for African educators and students to harness the power of open content.

We hope that you are doing well and staying safe as South Africa and many other Sub-Saharan African countries adapt to closure of schools and other educational institutions in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

As people practise social distancing and implement new routines at home, OER Africa would like to reiterate its support for African educators and students to harness the power of open content. Open content provides a unique opportunity to take advantage of digital learning and to make educational materials accessible.

Open educational resources (OER) include full courses, course materials, modules, textbooks, videos, assessments, software, tools, materials, and techniques used to support access to information. OER Africa’s website:https://oerafrica.org provides information on understanding OER, how to access OER, links to OER repositories in Africa, and actual OER that can be used by academics, teachers, and learners.

In the coming weeks, OER Africa will publish bi-weekly communications on OER and their relevance within the context of the COVID-19 pandemic and beyond.

Take care.

Warm Regards,

The OER Africa Team

The COVID-19 pandemic has affected 363 million learners worldwide (UNESCO, 2020). The Commonwealth of Learning's (COL’s) experience shows that open, distance and online learning, if done well, can have the same outcomes as campus education without requiring teachers and learners to be in the same place at the same time. COL has compiled a selection of resources and tools as a first response to this crisis.

The Commonwealth of Learning (COL), an inter-governmental organisation headquartered in Burnaby, Canada, is committed to promoting learning for sustainable development. It does this through the use of distance learning and online learning technologies. For more than 30 years, COL has used innovative approaches to open the doors of learning not just for formal education but non-formal and informal learning that is accessible, affordable and available to the last person in the queue.

With an increasing number of states, provinces and even whole countries closing institutions of learning as a response to the COVID-19 pandemic, 363 million learners worldwide are being impacted (UNESCO, 2020). How can we ensure that valuable time is not lost and our learners at all levels continue to learn wherever they are?

Many countries are planning to offer online learning as an alternative. COL’s experience shows that open, distance and online learning, if done well, can have the same outcomes as campus education without requiring teachers and learners to be in the same place at the same time. However, we recognise that not all schools, colleges and universities are currently well-prepared to fully utilise these approaches, and COL stands ready to share its expertise and resources to enable stakeholders to keep the doors of learning open for all.

In this time of crisis, a suitable response requires a renewed commitment to sharing and re-using open educational resources (OER); exploring novel ways to enable interaction between learners and other learners, learners and teachers, learners and content using online platforms; and to use appropriate technologies so that no one is left behind.

Some guidelines to consider include:

  1. Institutions should take emergency policy decisions to adopt alternative ways of teaching, including online learning.
  2. Ensure that learning is delivered using ICT tools such as radio, TV, mobile devices so that no learner is disadvantaged.
  3. Identify and use existing OER to provide quality learning.
  4. Develop and implement strategies for synchronous/asynchronous approaches.
  5. Encourage teachers to use free resources such as MoodleCloud to conduct online classes.

COL has compiled a selection of resources and tools as a first response to this crisis. The resources can be accessed below.

The eLearning Africa Report 2019 is a leading source of news, information, and analysis about ICT, EdTech, digital technology, learning and development.

The Report looks at the state of education, training, development and technology at this moment of unparalleled change.

The eLearning Africa Report 2019 is a leading source of news, information, and analysis about ICT, EdTech, digital technology, learning and development.

As African leaders seek to make a reality of the African Union's vision of a ‘transformed continent’ by 2063, setting their sights on the creation of the largest single market in the world and, as businesses assess the implications of a ‘fourth industrial revolution,’ the eLearning Africa Report looks at the state of education, training, development and technology at this moment of unparalleled change.