SDG4 and Open Education Resources - Moving in a Promising Direction

Saide's Executive Director was recently invited to contribute to the Commonwealth of Learning's newsletter, Connections.

Jenny Glennie

Saide[1]Enabling successful open learning for all

Opening equitable access to lifelong education for all has been an important commitment across the Commonwealth for many years. Two recent developments have been heartening in this quest.  The first is the adoption of Sustainable Development Goal 4 which has moved international goals about education beyond a narrow concern for numbers in schooling for young people to an inclusive vision of enabling and valuing different forms of quality learning for all: young and old, men and women, abled and differently abled, poor as well as rich, rural as well as urban: -in other words, education that strives to be just.

The second is the steady maturing of the Open Education Resources[2] (OER) community. These two developments came together in the recent Second OER World Congress (September 18 -20, 2017) in Slovenia, whose theme was ‘’OER for Inclusive and Equitable Quality Education: from Commitment to Action’’ organised by UNESCO, the Government of Slovenia and the Commonwealth of Learning.

This Second OER World Congress built on the declaration of the 2012 OER World Congress which saw the value of OER as contributing to widening access, cost-efficiency, and improving the quality of teaching and learning outcomes. In particular, the 2012 declaration urged states to encourage the development and adaptation of OER in a variety of languages and cultural contexts thus ensuring relevance and epistemological access.  It included an important clause that urged governments to ensure that all learning resources developed with public money should be made available as OER.

There is evidence that this declaration is beginning to yield results. For example, in Sub Saharan Africa, we see the availability of OER courses for professional development of teachers which support them to move away from chalk and talk to activity-based learning. Such courses are designed, and/or adapted, for the various contexts we find on our continent. We are beginning to see courses using OER being shared which capture local knowledge, reflect local contexts and have relevance to students’ lives, which engage students in meaningful ways, rather than focus on the transmission of content, and which begin to take seriously the attainment of learning outcomes.

And we have an example of an open publishing model, African Storybook (, which is making it possible, using technology, to get enough storybooks to every African child learning to read, not just the privileged 20%, in a language that is familiar to them, with content that speaks to their interests and experience in the quantities that are needed to embed reading practices. Importantly we have seen how the initiative has unleased the agency of educators and librarians in creating, translating or adapting stories suitable for their own contexts, and made accessible affordable print storybooks.

At the World Congress, similar examples from across the globe were cited of the concept of OER being harnessed to increase the agency of educators and librarians in translating and creating shareable learning resources in local languages and reflecting local contexts, free of the need to pay licence fees.

Much of this exciting OER work to date has been done with funds from international donors. Part of the coming of age now needs to include the commitment of governments, acting alone or with their neighbours, to allocate a proportion of their education budgets to the development of contextually relevant open education resources, as well as an annually increasing proportion of the resources set aside by the state for learning materials being allocated to materials with an open licence. The Action Plan adopted at the Congress urged even stronger action on the second count: that governments should ‘’Develop policy that requires publicly funded educational resources be openly licensed’’[3].

The declaration also emphasised that the contribution of OER will only be educationally effective if it is underpinned by sound pedagogical practices. This emphasis was in response to several inputs prior to the Congress. In particular one input from Saide’s OER Africa Initiative warning the Congress that ‘’as we have seen in the aftermath of early enthusiasm for online learning, use of technology tends only to magnify the effects of the underlying pedagogical practices into which it is integrated. In the same way, our experience is that harnessing of OER in a context of poor pedagogical practice simply has the effect of magnifying that poor practice, rather than solving it’’[4].

OER Africa is now working to be more rigorous in its understanding of how OER can contribute to each of a range of educational improvement areas: effective learning design for programmes or courses; learning from well-designed educational resources; inclusion of multiple voices or perspectives;  demonstrating the contested nature of knowledge;  creating opportunities for knowledge construction; proving regular, specific, and constructive feedback from educators and peers; and application of knowledge, including work-integrated learning (WIL).

[1] Saide is a not for profit organization working across Sub Saharan Africa but based in South Africa.

[2] OER are considered to be ‘’teaching, learning and research resources that reside in the public domain or have been released under an intellectual property licence that permits their free use and repurposing by others’’ (

[3] 2nd World OER Congress, Ljubljana OER Action Plan 2017, p5.

[4] OER Africa, OER Africa Pedagogical Improvement Framework: Draft for Discussion, August 2017, unpublished