OER and the Only Solution

Thanks to Cable Green of Creative Commons for flagging up a recent speech by Arne Duncan, US Secretary of Education, which highlighted the potential value of Open Educational Resources in helping to provide global access to education. The speech, Education is the Only Solution, which was addressed to the US Agency for International Development Global Education Summit, focused on the need to address global poverty and inequality to provide high quality education for all. A need that Duncan referred to as:

“a moral imperative, as well as a civic and economic necessity.”

Taking as his inspiration Malala Yousafzai’s address to the United Nations last month, Duncan acknowledged the role of “nations, multilateral organizations, NGOs and other partners” in working to make a better educated, safer, healthier world a reality by helping children, and girls in particular, gain the fundamental skills they need for success.

Duncan also reflected on the role of “game-changing” education technology

“that can help teachers personalize learning, and connect students and teachers with the best content the world has to offer, no matter where they live.”

And this is where Open Educational Resources come in:

“the fast-evolving field of education technology—from cloud computing to personal learning devices to Open Education Resources like the Khan Academy, which my two young children enjoy—has huge potential to transform education.”


“Open Education Resources and other communication tools can help improve and expand teacher training and professional development—a huge opportunity in countries grappling with large teacher shortages and under-educated teachers.”

I know nothing about the political background and context of Duncan’s speech, but it’s hard to argue with the sentiments. (Though I found some of the language rather hard to parse – “Today’s global economy is not a zero-sum game. Instead, education is the new currency by which nations keep competitive and grow the pie for all.” – eh?!) And although I would caution against regarding open educational resources as a panacea for the world’s educational ills, it’s encouraging to see their potential benefits being highlighted at this level. And to be fair to Duncan, he did stress that:

“It’s important always to start with the education challenge, and then determine which technology, if any, meets the need and adds value to other solutions. It’s tempting to make it about new, glamorous gadgets—but that can distract from simpler and more effective approaches.”

Amen to that.

I was also interested to note that Duncan announced:

“we’re poised to make the first free, U.S. government-funded digital learning materials—designed to improve postsecondary training in high-demand careers—available for use and improvement.”

Does anyone know anything about this initiative? I don’t think I’ve heard anything about it before.

While the educational challenges that face the UK in general, and Scotland in particular, are quite different from those facing developing nations and the US itself, there are undeniably some commonalities. To quote Duncan again:

“Worldwide, just as in the U.S., we also need to focus on educational quality, attainment and completion.”

Quality, attainment and completion were among the issues discussed earlier this summer during the Open Scotland Summit in Edinburgh that set out to explore the potential of open policies to develop Scotland’s unique education offering, support social inclusion, inter-institutional collaboration and sharing and enhance quality and sustainability. I can’t help hoping that one day, in the not too distant future, we’ll hear an education minister on this side of the pond acknowledging the potential of open educational resources, and open education more widely, to achieve these goals.

PS I thought it was interesting that Duncan flagged up Khan Academy as an inspiring OER initiative, given that Kahn Academy content is released under the relatively restrictive Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike licence, however that’s a discussion for another blog post :}

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