Leveraging OER for COVID-19 Response Efforts and International Partnerships

Jennryn Wetzler

This post was written in collaboration with Jan Gondol, Ebba Ossiannilsson, Karolina Szczepaniak, and Spencer Ellis. A portion was also published on the Open Government Partnership’s website.

Currently, we face both a swell of support for open educational resources (OER) and devastating upheaval of our traditional education systems. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, over 1.5 billion youth are out of school, countless teachers and parents are pivoting to online teaching and education systems face immense financial strain. While OER is not a magic cure for the current education crisis, there are opportunities to work with open education efforts to build greater resiliency within our learning ecosystems and also support cross-national partnerships. 

Open educational resources (OER) are teaching, learning, and research materials that are either (a) in the public domain or (b) licensed in a manner that provides everyone with free and perpetual permission to engage in the 5R activities. OER is one facet of open education, or efforts to make education more affordable, accessible, and effective—providing unfettered access to learning to as many people as possible. Open education involves open practices, open policies, and open educational resources.

Today, we have a stronger need and established international frameworks to use OER to fuel our education efforts and collective commitments. This pandemic highlights the effects closing access to information and communication has on communities; conversely, it demonstrates how essential open practices (e.g. free sharing of information, unfettered access to education materials, etc.) are to our collective human security.

Examples of leveraging OER in COVID-19 response efforts

OER offers a more agile solution to our contemporary times of flux. OER enables educators to adapt learning resources to meet the needs of the growing populations of online learners, whether those needs are for translation into first languages, accessibility, or lower cost. 

So how does one leverage OER in COVID-19 response efforts? Below is a list of examples.

Most examples can be initiated but not fully realized in the short term. Rather, they set the framework for realizing more resilient education practices in the future. 

  • Exemplifying the benefit of open educational practices, Slovakia’s most recent Open Government Partnership (OGP) commitments include mapping the available open educational resources in the Slovak language. When schools closed with the COVID-19 quarantine, the OGP Slovakia team promptly released a work-in-progress version of the resources overview through social media, which became the most popular of its Facebook posts, ever. Teachers and parents found it very helpful to immediately access, adapt, and reuse the resources freely, and the impact may last well beyond the current crisis.

The Open Government Partnership (OGP) is an international organization of government leaders and civil society advocates united to promote more transparent, accountable, and responsive governance and services for citizens. The OGP includes 78 National governments (representing 2 billion people) and additional local governments working closely with thousands of civil society organizations. Together, OGP governments and civil society members co-create two-year action plans with concrete commitments addressing a broad range of issues, which enables civil society organizations to help shape and oversee government work.

  • As Poland rapidly transitioned 24,000 schools with 600,000 teachers and 4.8 million students to a distance learning model, NGOs were able to strengthen teaching efforts with open educational resources, immediately. While previously underused among teachers, the Polish Ministry of National Education’s Education Platform for e-textbooks (an OER) became an important, well-used resource, because it was available immediately and without restrictions. Lessons on the Web (Lekcje w sieci), a web service, created over 200 OER lesson scenarios in three weeks for all levels of education. 
  • Wikimedia Deutschland and edu-sharing.net launched Wir lernen online (we learn online), in April. The open education platform strengthens digital infrastructure to support schools in digital home teaching and organizers welcome collaboration with stakeholders in the education sector. 
  • The Norwegian government, UNESCO, UNHCR, multiple private and non-profit organizations established a collaboration supporting translation efforts of open-licensed children’s reading books (OER) into new languages. The project is called Translate a Story and aims to help children continue reading, during, and after this pandemic.

International frameworks supporting OER

Numerous countries have recognized the powerful intersection between OER and open government efforts. In the last 10 years, many countries such as Chile, Greece, and Romania have leveraged OER efforts to address OGP goals of transparency, accountability, public participation, and inclusion in their education systems, fiscal accountability, and improvement of public services. Read how nine OGP commitments are supporting OGP’s goals through open educational resources here. The 2019 OGP Global Report states that at the end of 2018, there have been at least 160 education commitments (page six of the Education section). The Education section also highlights cases made for OER (page 23), which include: potential prohibitive costs of traditional materials, the ability to keep open-source materials updated, and higher student performance.

In addition to open government work, national governments, international and local organizations recognize the potential of OER—and the opportunity to partner under international frameworks that support open education goals. In November 2019, UNESCO unanimously passed the UNESCO Open Educational Resources (OER) Recommendation to advance the construction of open, inclusive, and participatory knowledge societies and established a Dynamic Coalition of government, civil society, and private sector experts connected to support the recommendations. The OER Recommendation dovetails with SDG4 efforts, emphasizing that open education can support “inclusive and equitable quality education” and “lifelong learning opportunities for all.” 

National government counterparts currently seek partnerships and open projects to help actualize SDG4 aims, the OER Recommendation actions, and OGP commitments. Now is the ideal time to leverage OER efforts to meet SDG, UNESCO OER Recommendation, and OGP goals at the same time. It is also time to build more resilience into education systems, in response to COVID-19.

Get involved

OER is often linked to networks of open education enthusiasts, passionate about sharing educational resources.

Open education networks have provided outreach for teachers, parents, students, and advocates—offering “how-to” webinars, supports for emotional wellbeing, and lists of open resources. View this Wikipedia article section collecting just a few of the resources and responses.  And join the Creative Commons open education listserv or Slack community to discuss opportunities for engagement in open education efforts.

👋 Stop the spread of COVID-19 by taking these steps outlined by the WHO, including washing your hands for at least 20 seconds and social distancing.