A coalition of educators, foundations and internet pioneers today urged governments and publishers to make publicly-funded educational materials available freely over the Internet.
The Cape Town Open Education Declaration, launched today, is part of an effort to make learning and teaching materials available to everyone online, regardless of income or geographic location. It encourages teachers and students around the world to join a growing movement and use the web to share, remix and translate classroom materials to make education more accessible, effective and flexible.
"Open education allows every person on earth to access and contribute to the vast pool of knowledge on the Web,” says Jimmy Wales, founder of Wikipedia and Wikia and one of the authors of the Declaration. “Everyone has something to teach and everyone has something to learn.”
According to the Declaration, teachers, students and communities would benefit if publishers and governments made publicly-funded educational materials freely available online. This will give students unlimited access to high quality, constantly improving course materials, just as Wikipedia has done in the world of reference materials.
Open education makes the link between teaching, learning and the collaborative culture of the Internet. It includes creating and sharing materials used in teaching as well as new approaches to learning where people create and shape knowledge together.
These new practices promise to provide students with educational materials that are individually tailored to their learning style. There are already more than 100 000 such open educational resources available on the Internet.
The Declaration is the result of a meeting of thirty open education leaders in Cape Town, organised late last year by the Open Society Institute and the Shuttleworth Foundation. Participants identified key strategies for developing open education. They encourage others to join and sign the Declaration.
"Open sourcing education doesn't just make learning more accessible – it makes it more collaborative, flexible and locally relevant,” says Linux entrepreneur Mark Shuttleworth. “Linux is succeeding exactly because of this sort of adaptability. The same kind of success is possible for open education.”
Open education is of particular relevance in developing and emerging economies, creating the potential for affordable textbooks and learning materials. It opens the door to small scale, local content producers likely to create more diverse offerings than large multinational publishing houses.
"Cultural diversity and local knowledge are a critical part of open education,” says Eve Gray of the Centre for Educational Technology at the University of Cape Town. “Countries like South Africa need to start producing and sharing educational materials built on their own diverse cultural heritage. Open education promises to make this kind of diverse publishing possible.”
The Declaration has already been translated into over a dozen languages and the growing list of signatories includes: Jimmy Wales; Mark Shuttleworth; Peter Gabriel, musician and founder of Real World Studios; Sir John Daniel, President of Commonwealth of Learning; Thomas Alexander, former Director for Education at the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development; Paul N. Courant, University Librarian and former Provost, University of Michigan; Lawrence Lessig, founder and CEO of Creative Commons; Andrey Kortunov, President of the New Eurasia Foundation; and Yehuda Elkana, Rector of the Central European University. Organizations endorsing the Declaration include: Wikimedia Foundation; Public Library of Science; Commonwealth of Learning; Scholarly Publishing and Academic Resources Coalition; Canonical Ltd.; Centre for Open and Sustainable Learning; Open Society Institute; and Shuttleworth Foundation.