Saturday, June 2, 2012

COL/UNESCO report on national OER policies

CC BY-SA Commonwealth of Learning
Open educational resources (OER) are becoming a feature of education all over the world though the uptake is often very patchy. Mostly it's a grassroots movement with groups of teachers and individual schools or colleges taking admirable initiatives. However top-down support for OER is still unusual and without this I don't believe that OER can become mainstream.

UNESCO and Commonwealth of Learning are two global organisations that are championing the open learning cause and have just published the results of a major survey: Survey on Governments’ Open Educational Resources (OER) Policies. They sent out a questionnaire to all 195 UNESCO member states asking them whether they had any policies concerning the use of OER in the country's schools and universities. Less than half (82) of these countries replied in time but the results show that there are countries who are taking open education seriously and beginning to form national strategies around the open sharing of educational material. Those who actually have a national policy for OER include South Africa, China, Indonesia and the Bahamas with others, such as Colombia, Uruguay, New Zealand and Lesotho, are in the process of developing a policy and already have guidelines and national initiatives.

The report deals with the following issues:
  • Nature and extent of OER activity per region
  • Nature and extent of existing policies 
  • References to OER in other public policies 
  • Funding Studies and research on OER
  • Perceived benefits of OER
  • Obstacles to OER adoption
What strikes me most is that OER is a global issue and that there is as much if not more activity taking place in Africa and South America than in western Europe. Sweden in particular is conspicuous by its absence in the survey though our neighbours Finland and Lithuania feature positively. I can imagine that in many countries OER is still a relatively unknown concept and although there may be excellent local and limited projects and initiatives they have remained under the radar of governing bodies.

Although the results of the survey are not startling, the fact that the survey was carried out at all by such internationally respected bodies is the most important achievement. By sending out the questionnaire to all these governments the question of OER was officially placed on the table. Many respondents were unsure of what OER really meant but simply by trying to answer the questions they were obliged to find out what OER activities were in progress in the country. Those who reponded are now more aware of OER than before but it will be even more interesting if the report has any effect on the nations who did not respond. Many will have realised that they knew too little about the concept to give a decent answer or that there sinply was nothing to report. But by at least thinking about how to answer they had to find out what OER entails. Maybe processes have already been started to ensure that next time more countries will be able to answer.

Interestingly a parallel study was carried out by OECD among 34 member nations and in this case 28 countries replied showing that OER is taken seriously by most OECD nations. Read this survey:
HylĂ©n, J. et al. (2012), “Open Educational Resources:Analysis of Responses to the OECD CountryQuestionnaire”, OECD Education Working Papers, No. 76, OECD Publishing.

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