OER Africa at the World OER Congress in Slovenia

Jennifer Glennie, Saide’s Director, and Neil Butcher co-project leader of the OER Africa project, were in attendance at the conference. This article presents a brief overview of the conference and its outcomes.

Neil Butcher, Jennifer Glennie

In September, 2017, The Ministry of Education in Slovenia hosted the Second World OER Congress in the picturesque city of Ljubljana. Jennifer Glennie, Saide’s Director, and Neil Butcher co-project leader of the OER Africa project, were in attendance. This article presents a brief overview of the conference and its outcomes.

From 18-20 September, Ljubljana in Slovenia played host to the much-anticipated Second World OER Congress (WOERC), which followed the highly successful first Congress held in Paris in 2012. The WOERC was organized by UNESCO and the Slovenian Ministry of Education, Science and Sport in close collaboration with the Commonwealth of Learning, Creative Commons, the Slovenian National Commission for UNESCO and the UNESCO Chair on Open Technologies for OER and Open Learning (Jožef Stefan Institute, Slovenia) with the generous support of The William and Flora Hewlett Foundation.

The Second Congress followed the theme ‘OER for Inclusive and Equitable Quality Education: From Commitment to Action’, which was intended to reflect a strong focus on the role of OER in achieving Sustainable Development Goal 4 (‘Ensure inclusive and quality education for all and promote lifelong learning’). The Congress reportedly brought together 500 participants, including representatives of governments, inter-governmental organizations, educational institutions, non-governmental organizations, and private sector representatives.

Jennifer Glennie and Neil Butcher were both privileged to receive invitations to attend the Congress, with travel funding kindly provided by UNESCO. In addition, Jenny was requested to chair a plenary session on Interregional Cooperation on OER which featured presentations on the promising work underway among Iberian-American States (OEI), Southeast Asian countries (SEAMEO), the European Commission (EC), and countries in the Arab League (ALECSO). Collaboration centred on awareness raising, capacity building (including around cultural relevance), exchange of good practice, policies to open education (EC), and the creation of an OER hub (ALESCO). Unfortunately, there was no presentation from the African Region, despite efforts by UNESCO.

In addition, as part of a panel addressing Contributions of OER to Sustainable Development Goal 4, Jenny presented on Saide’s African Storybook project, which provided participants exposure to one of the few African success stories in OER presented at the Congress. The presentation was very well received with lots of positive individual feedback afterwards.

The main focuses of the Congress were to produce an Action Plan (which has subsequently been dubbed the Ljubljana OER Action Plan) and to provide a Forum for attending Ministers of Education to discuss collaborative opportunities, which culminated in the release of a separate Ministerial Statement. The Ministerial Statement was jointly prepared by attending Ministers, 20 in total, from Bangladesh, Barbados, Bulgaria, Czech Republic, Costa Rica, Croatia, Kiribati, Lao People’s Democratic Republic, Lithuania, Malta, Mauritius Mauritania, Mozambique, Palestine, Romania, Serbia, Slovakia, Slovenia, South Africa, and the United Arab Emirates. This was an unexpected, but very positive, development, as a separate Ministerial Statement had not been an explicit objective of the Congress.

A draft OER Action Plan was prepared ahead of the Congress and shared online for feedback. Through OER Africa, Saide provided extensive feedback on the draft Action Plan, noting concerns especially about the extensive number of action items and about the way in which OER was being characterized as a proxy for quality in teaching and learning practices. It was pleasing to note that this feedback was acknowledged in the Action Plan drafting process, with Jenny also being invited to join the drafting committee. The result was a significant reduction in action items and the addition of at least some nuance regarding the relationship between OER and quality educational practices. The final Action Plan was adopted at the end of the Congress, and both it and the Ministerial Statement can be viewed at http://www.oercongress.org/woerc-actionplan/.

The Congress provided a good opportunity for reflecting on progress made in the implementation of OER globally since the first meeting in Paris in 2012, as well as providing a welcome occasion to renew contact with many partners and friends in the OER Community. However, there was a sense, in listening to and engaging with the many inputs made, that progress in implementing and mainstreaming OER has not been as successful as might have been hoped after the first Congress (although those expectations might have been somewhat unrealistic). There was little evidence of substantive development in the OER field, either conceptually or in terms of practical influence on the quality of educational delivery at scale. There were also not as many ministerial players in the OER Community as represented at the first Congress. The Ministry of Education in Slovenia, though, is to be commended for the leading role it has taken on amongst governments in adopting and promoting OER practices.

However, it is also interesting to note that many initiatives of which we are aware, which are very actively adopting open licensing in education, were not represented in the Congress. In a way, this possibly highlights the greatest success in OER and open licensing since 2012, which is the way in which these concepts have moved beyond a relatively small community of practice and are increasingly being incorporated into many mainstream initiatives, policies, and programmes, often without necessarily even conceiving of themselves primarily as ‘OER initiatives’.  And this maybe points to the way forward in open licensing in education, which is that it is increasingly understood as a tool that enables many good educational practices and facilitates efforts to improve access to education, but that the focus should again be on the core educational initiatives and their impact, rather than on whether they can be characterized as OER initiatives. As the concept of OER becomes mainstreamed in this way, the World OER Congress of 2012 will have achieved its main goals.