Openly Licensed Educational Resources: Providing Equitable Access to Education for All Learners
Everyone has the right to education...Education shall be directed to the full development of the human personality and to the strengthening of respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms. It shall promote understanding, tolerance and friendship among all nations, racial or religious groups, and shall further the activities of the United Nations for the maintenance of peace. --Article 26 of the United Nations Declaration of Human Rights
Access to quality education is an essential component of addressing many of our biggest global and societal challenges. Last year, the United Nations surveyed youth around the world about their priorities—what opportunities they want to be offered. More than improvements in electricity and infrastructure, healthcare, and better jobs, what young people asked for was a good education. It’s no surprise that young people value education. World Bank economists estimate that for every year of study, individual income increases by 10-15 percent. These increases don’t just affect individuals; they often generate a “ripple effect” of benefits to families and entire communities. Openly licensed learning resources, also known as open educational resources (OER), can increase access to high-quality education opportunities and reduce the cost of education around the world.
On September 28, the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy, U.S. Department of Education, and U.S. Department of State co-hosted an International Open Education Workshop, bringing together 40 civil society and foreign government participants from eight countries to examine existing open education efforts and identify opportunities for future collaboration between government and civil society. This workshop is one of several open education commitments made as part of the second U.S. Open Government Partnership National Action Plan.
At the workshop, participants shared examples of ways that openly licensed educational materials are being used to solve local education challenges around the world. For example, one participant shared open-source tools that enable offline access to openly licensed educational videos -- technology that has supported education for Syrian refugees, inmates in U.S. correctional facilities, and over 2 million other learners from around the world. Open licenses grant anyone the rights to revise, remix, and redistribute these educational materials, so investments in content or tools made by one organization or government can be leveraged by other institutions and used in new ways.
Another participant, drawing on her recent experience serving as a Foreign Service Officer in the Balkans, noted the potential for openly licensed educational materials to honor local knowledge and information needs. In particular, she described how an open-source model could empower educators to collaborate on and adapt textbooks across local and international borders, retaining fundamental content while tailoring certain features, like names in math word problems, to reflect students’ ethnic diversity and culture. Empowering local communities to adapt, translate, and create collections of learning materials that meet their information, learning, or language needs helps side-step assumptions and honor learners’ lived experiences.
Open education advances key national priorities, including supporting shared economic prosperity, strengthening civil society, and investing in human development. Over the next year, the U.S. Government will continue efforts to expand and accelerate the use and availability of openly licensed educational materials worldwide. In addition, we will begin to model the transition to openly licensed educational materials at scale in U.S. K-12 schools. We look forward to engaging with the national and global community to identify opportunities for open licensing to accelerate educational equity for all learners regardless of their financial situations or geographic locations.
Richard Culatta is Director of the Office of Educational Technology at the U.S. Department of Education.
Sunshine Ison is Director of the ECA Collaboratory at the U.S. Department of State.
Nancy Weiss is Senior Advisor to the Chief Technology Officer at the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy.