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Half a century ago, on 26 April 1970, the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) Convention came into force and is commemorated as World Intellectual Property (IP) Day, with the aim of increasing general understanding of IP. WIPO is a self-funded agency of the United Nations and serves as a global forum for an IP system that enables innovation and inventiveness for the benefit of humankind. Almost all sub-Saharan African countries are members of WIPO. IP refers to property that does not necessarily have any physical substance (‘creations of the mind’), such as  inventions, designs, artworks, books etc. It provides for ways in which the IP embodied in such works can be protected. This protection is provided through, for example, copyrights, patents, and trademarks. These give creators rights over information and intellectual goods that they have produced, often providing economic incentives by protecting their ideas. A WIPO resource that explains the concept of IP is Making IP Work, and the organization is a leader in protecting people’s IP to drive innovation.

Critics of the concept of IP maintain that it prevents the free flow of ideas, hampers progress, and harms the public interest by concentrating on the benefits for the few at the expense of the many. A recent example would be the patenting of Covid-19 vaccines, resulting in enormous profits for certain pharmaceutical companies at the expense of global public health. For educational materials, the mechanism used to protect the rights of the creator is the concept of copyright

At OER Africa, we respect the right of individuals to protect their IP and we understand its importance in driving innovation. However, in the case of educational materials, we believe that asserting copyright with all rights reserved may often not be the most appropriate copyright in today’s world. Many of the resources are produced with public funds, so these should be available for reuse. Higher education institutions are coming under increasing pressure to produce better results, massify enrolments, and lower costs. Embracing the concept of Open Educational Resources (OER) by replacing All Rights Reserved with an open licence (such as one of the Creative Commons licences) can assist educational institutions to provide resources that can be accessed freely, used, adapted, and redistributed by others without restriction. You can find out more about open licensing on our online tutorial called Find Open Content.

The theme of World Intellectual Property Day for 2022 is “IP and youth innovating for a better future.” Correctly, WIPO aims to encourage youth to develop their ingenuity and creativity by using the tools of the IP system to build a better future. However, we would like to urge youth to consider openly licensing educational materials they may develop, and in turn, to make use of openly licensed materials.

A Creative Commons CC BY licence allows educationists to freely access and adapt educational resources for their own contexts. Enabling materials to be used in this way is especially important in developing country settings where resources are often not available or too expensive for students to access. For example, a better future for many young children in Africa would be learning to read for understanding. The African Storybook initiative provides openly licensed picture storybooks to encourage children to read for pleasure in numerous African languages. Encouraging youth to translate existing storybooks into their own language or adapt them for a different context or reading level are ways they can contribute to the development of literacy across the continent. If they have the skills to do so, they might also contribute storybooks to the website. Authors who develop such resources retain the copyright to their work; the open licence merely enables others to use the materials for their own purposes – which is very useful for youth, teachers, and parents alike. There are currently 3,210 storybooks available on the website, in 224 languages. An evaluation of the early years of African Storybook noted that ‘The number of stories and range of languages is … a powerful testament to the open publishing model which enables one story to be adapted …. or translated into many languages, quickly and easily and cost-effectively.’

At the higher education level, academics can develop course materials which they can openly license for adaptation and use by others. Many academics are concerned that they are giving away their IP by releasing them as OER. This however is not the case; as mentioned above, the course developer is the copyright holder, and all open licences require attribution of the original source. As Butcher (2011) explains in A Basic Guide to Open Education Resources, only a small percentage of teaching and learning materials generates revenue through direct sales, while teaching resources that have commercial resale value are few, and are declining still further due to educational material being freely accessible on the Internet. Releasing them under an open licence extends their longevity and brings recognition rewards to the author. Where there is a real potential for resources to be marketed for profit, the individual or the institution can maintain all rights reserved copyright, using WIPO’s guidelines. An academic wishing to openly license their work can refer to OER Africa’s Copyright and Licensing Toolkit, to find out about licensing options, applying a licence, and understanding copyright clearance.

IP clearly has a role in driving innovation. However, it is important to remember that it is a social construct, not a law. When considering World IP Day, we believe that all educationists should aim to strike a balance between using IP for their own personal benefit and openly licensing their works for the benefit of the constituencies they work within.


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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.


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 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.


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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.