This week, a story was sent around on the OKFN open education mailing list (subscribe here) about the devastation in Syria and how this is affecting the children. The context is that there are now about 7 million Syrian children living in refugee camps. Many children are therefore not receiving an education, either because the refugee schools are too full or it is very difficult to transfer in the chaotic system. Here is a quote from the article:
“I had top grades – I wanted to study communications at university. I was in my last two years of school [when the conflict broke out], but now I have no chance to finish my education,” he told us. “To get registered in school here, they told me I must bring my school papers from Syria. How is this possible when my school and house were completely destroyed? I told them I could sit an exam to show them, but they said they have too many students already. I’ve tried to study by myself at home, but I have no access to books; I can’t learn anything. I had such hopes for a good future, but now they’ve been destroyed.“
The question was posed “Can open educational resources help and if so, how do they obtain them?”. This is a devastating story, but also brings to light broader questions of making open education accessible in developing countries amidst the many challenges, the most prominent one being the lack of infrastructure and internet access. This highlights crucial differences between developed and developing countries which should be taken into account when creating and distributing OER and assessing the potential impact of open education. In light of this, I would like to discuss some of our experiences at Siyavula, as we are also working within a developing country to deliver open educational resources.
In South Africa, we have an enormous range of contexts within which people are trying to learn. We interact with some schools where every child has an iPad, and yet most schools are severely under resourced, often without the basic infrastructure such as walled classrooms and toilet facilities, nevermind an internet connection.
(See the rest of the slides from this presentation here.)
How then do we deliver educational content to satisfy all of these learners’ needs?
Over and above making our content available on our websites and as ePubs, two forms of delivery are crucial to us in South Africa, and I would think this would apply generally to developing countries. These are print resources and mobile phones.
Distributing print resources
We are in the unique position in South Africa where our government, the Department of Basic Education, has printed and distributed our textbooks to all learners in government schools. That is about 10 million books so far, at a cost of about $2 per book. The feedback we have had has been over whelming, as many learners never had any textbook before, and their teachers are most often under qualified. Have a look at our Siyavula Facebook page for some of the feedback that constantly streams in directly from learners who have received our textbooks for free.
My take home message!
OER, even that produced in developed countries, needs to be optimised for this kind of delivery (especially mobile), if you want your content to truly be as accessible and open as possible! If OER developers and curators satisfy the most basic (open) formats for content delivery, then the content will have a much further reach.
By sharing some of our experiences, I hope that OER producers and advocates in first world countries will first and foremost consider the “constraints” of developing countries when producing OER, as this is where open education has the most potential to have the biggest impact.