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 Thursday, January 17, 2013
Open Educational Resources, or OERs, offer a potential tool for impacting education in developing countries and fast growing economies, particularly in the emerging technology hubs of Africa. These open, freely available educational resources can provide top education for people who don’t have access to universities or education in developing countries, but there is fear that educational resources created in highly developed countries will be of little use to those in developing countries because of cultural and economic differences.

Open Educational Resources are described by UNESCO as being teaching, learning or research materials that are free to distribute or adapt. The MOOC is a great example of an OER, and organizations like Coursera, Udacity and edX are working in conjunction with top universities in the States and around the world to get university courses online and accessible the world over. Connexions, a global repository of educational content, has resources at all levels of education, and the Institute for the Study of Knowledge Management in Education (ISKME) set up the OER Commons to give teachers and students access to some 30,000 educational resources online.

There has been a huge amount of debate about the relevance of these kinds of resources in the developing world, particularly in Africa, a continent which is currently seeing rapid economic growth and technological innovation. Using open source materials in developing countries could potentially lead to a greater knowledge gap between the developed world and the developing world, with Africans becoming consumers of knowledge rather than producers. Because of the high cost involved in the creation of OERs, African countries with fewer resources may not have the means to create and distribute their own materials and resources.

On other hand, there is already a push toward open information sharing going on in many of Africa’s tech hubs. Organizations like Siyavula in South Africa and others around the Continent are creating OERs for use in their own countries and in wider Africa, and are creating a pan-African community of resource creators. OpenRwanda is a web portal educating and encouraging Rwandans to use the open source materials available to them. The Peer2Peer University in South Africa and the African Virtual University, a pan-African intergovernmental organization both offer free online courses with the aim of increasing access to education in their home continent. While progress is being made, it is still necessary for governments and policymakers to foster the development of OER materials that are relevant to education systems across Africa.

There were many who agreed with the motion, while the opposition argued that there is a lot of negative potential around OERs. Neil Butcher, OER Strategist for the Southern African Institute of Distance Education (SAIDE), suggested that OERs were just the tip of the iceberg, and that the educational sector needed a fundamental overhaul.

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