A Decade into Cape Town Open Education Declaration

 By Prathima Appaji

On January 22nd, 2018, the Cape Town Open Education Declaration celebrated 10 years since being signed by a small group of advocates to encourage open education, the growth of open education and more importantly to build an international movement for furthering access and use of open educational resources (OER).

The Declaration states three strategies to achieve its said objectives;

(1) Inspiring educators and students to create, adapt and use OER

(2) Creation of more OER

(3) Implementation of Open Educational Policy at the institutional level, i.e., governments and universities.

The intention behind the Declaration was to shift the control over education to the hands of actual parties involved, teachers and students. Furthermore, it hoped to make education more affordable to everyone by veering away from expensive textbooks. In addition, the document encompassed open software programs, collaborative learning, and new approaches to assessing students.

The past decade has been exciting for the field of open education, and the movement has significantly grown. Presently with over 2500 individual and 275 organisation signatories to the Declaration, the support for open education is only growing to include more students, teachers, legislators, and advocates.

Today, OER are increasingly being used in classes across the country. One example: open textbook publisher OpenStax reports adoption of their books in large enrolment courses has reached 16.5% of the total market share, challenging the dominance of commercial textbooks. All told, their books have saved students $155 million and counting.

At the same time, the Open Textbook Network, housed at the University of Minnesota, is a network of over 600 campuses across the US that works to expand the availability of open textbooks and hosts a  free library of hundreds of peer-reviewed open textbooks.

In recent years the Department of Education started the #GoOpen Campaign, wherein the Department encourages and supports states, districts, and educators who use OER in their schools and courses. To date, 20 states and 114 districts have “gone open,” meaning that the states are working to supporting their schools to transition into using high-quality OER for all their courses. This support also translates into a state-wide adoption of relevant technology, creating a state repository for OER, and develop the technical skills to produce high-quality OER.   

Despite the significant achievements of open education, several barriers continue to exist. Many governments and institutions have yet to be convinced about the benefits of open education, and most educators are not even aware of open education. According to Babson Survey, only 30% of the faculty in the US are aware of OER. In the same report, it was reported that a large number of faculty have not been able to adopt OER due to the lack of suitable study material for their courses.

Additionally, our education systems are designed to perpetuate the status quo – often allowing too long between material reviews, or making educators apprehensive about teaching without different materials without enough institutional cover.

For the open education community to make more strides, there is a need for comprehensive awareness campaigns for the concept of OER, open education, what it means to be ‘free’, and ‘open’, amongst others. Knowledge of copyright and Creative Commons licenses is also an important way of tackling fears of infringements and lawsuits. Governments and universities, especially libraries must be incorporated into the movement.

In today’s evolving world, education and teaching have to keep pace with the constantly changing demands, and OER is the ideal framework to meet this demand and to reduce costs, while continuously improving student outcomes. With the rise in the use of technology and internet in teaching, OER ensures that teaching remains interactive and dynamic. Furthermore, this will also guarantee the study materials remain relevant to the social context and time of the target audience.

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