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Open Education can achieve equity

“Imagine a world in which human knowledge is shared more equitably, unhindered by barriers of cost, time or national borders.

“Just think what could be achieved by marshalling the latest ground-breaking research and offering research-led, challenge-focused education at scale, as part of a global effort to meet – and solve – the biggest challenges facing our planet.

“This change is desperately needed and long overdue. Now is the time for action, not just words.”

These are the words of the Knowledge Equity Network, a principle that echoes the ideals of Gino Fransman, the Nelson Mandela University’s Open Education Influencers project leader. 

“All too often, signatures from those committing to declarations remain on the page with no actionable follow-through. We want to change that. Open education must be a focal point at universities as it is such a huge area and cannot be maintained on the fringes of other dedicated portfolios. It requires the energy of a full-time entity,” Fransman says. 

Access to resources underpins the practical aspect of open education. With the high cost of textbooks that hinders progress and motivation around learning, access is a fundamental priority. 

No cost

Open educational resources (OER) for teaching and learning are freely available online resources that are immediately accessible to students. OERs are scalable and can be distributed to students with no cost to the student or the institution when sharing. 

Unesco defines open educational resources (OER) as “learning, teaching and research materials in any format and medium that reside in the public domain or are under copyright that have been released under an open licence, that permit no-cost access, re-use, re-purpose, adaptation and redistribution by others.”

An open licence, such as the Creative Commons licence, allows for the legal sharing of information with attribution to the original source and creator. This licence enables you to copy or redistribute material in any medium or format and remix, transform, and build upon it for various purposes, according to conditions set within each licence.

Open education is also about capacity development and empowering people for workplace readiness using OER, as a feature of the OpenEdInfluencers project. The freely accessible BOEI course (Becoming an Open Education Influencer) is that vehicle.

OpenEdInfluencers, or OEIs, are ambassadors who increase awareness of open educational resources and open education practices. OEIs facilitate the adoption, creation and licensing of OER. #OpenEdInfluencers energetically advocate for the use of open textbooks across purposes, faculties and schools.

Online open textbooks also make the learning process more affordable and easier to access. With the cost of textbooks eliminated students learn for free without the worry of additional financial constraints.

“There is a zero-cost element. Students have access on mobile phones without needing access to data and this provides an open conduit to engage with the material, but this is only possible with support from the private sector, or data service provider networks,” Fransman says.

“Because of Covid, we had to pivot to online learning, and it was necessary for learning management systems at universities to reposition information for systems to go online. Access to good information moves the learning endeavour further forward.”  

Professional competence

Fransman points out that free education is often associated with inferior quality, but this is a gross misrepresentation.

“MIT and Johns Hopkins courses, and lauded institutions where professionals study, are all available freely. It’s the accreditation that you have to pay for, but access is free.” 

Fransman says: “The #OpenEdInfluencers project aim is to empower others to activate personal, community or professional development goals related to the [UN’s] sustainable development goals (SDGs), by doing something about achieving it. The underpinning philosophy is professional change through actions.

“The university aims to recruit students as influencers to empower them to enter the workplace with practical knowledge and experience, enabling work to begin immediately. Time will not need to be spent on understanding industry terminology as this will be acquired in prior learning.”  

Employment and opportunities to get involved

In four years, the university has trained 10 OEIs, nine of whom have gone on to find employment in the sector. This programme has supported and capacitated young professionals to enter the workplace with professional competencies. 

The Nelson Mandela University OpenEdInfluencers project is on a recruitment drive for another four OEIs. 

In addition, opportunities for staff to get involved include the Open Textbook Fellowship: creating a free open textbook for your context and situation, and the Unesco Open Education for a Better World programme – OE4BW is looking for course authors and mentors for a global mentoring initiative engaging the SDGs in hubs based on different continents. 

Fransman represented the continent at the Knowledge Exchange Network Global Summit at Leeds University on 17 November with a perspective from the global south. The event was attended by governments, NGOs, higher education institutions and the private sector. 

“At the UK convention, the attendants may have expected the global south to come with a begging bowl. That was not the case. We had something to offer and lead,” Fransman adds.



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