WSIS 2020 High-Level Dialogue on Open Educational Resources as a tool to combat inequalities

The specific importance of Open Educational Resources in our time was reiterated at this year’s World Summit on the Information Society (WSIS), an annual event gathering the global ‘ICT for development’ community, co-organized by UNESCO ITU, UNDP and UNCTAD. Under the overall theme Fostering digital transformation and global partnerships: WSIS Action Lines for achieving the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), an online High-Level Dialogue was organized on 9 September 2020 to discuss the actuality of the OER Recommendation in today’s digital society, and the urgent need to speed up its implementation, under the theme “UNESCO OER Recommendation: Implementation in the age of Covid-19”.

In our era of digitalization, where data has become both currency and key to ensure inclusive, open and democratic societies, no doubt remains on the value and importance of free access to information for all, be it online or offline. While the emergent information society has brought many challenges, it also holds promise for a universalization of access to quality information and resources, to the benefit of all – no matter where in the world you live. The COVID-19 pandemic has further demonstrated the use – and even necessity – of technology in enabling whole societies to continue to function during lockdown and other restrictions. However, a prerequisite for the technological transformation to deliver on its promise of inclusion and the democratization of knowledge is that information is free and open to access and use, with no or limited restrictions.

In exacerbating inequalities, the pandemic has shown how control over data, information and ultimately control over knowledge, cannot be in the hands of a few but rather need to be openly accessible to all.

Dorothy Gordon, Chair of the Intergovernmental Council for UNESCO’s Information for All Programme

Such resources that allow open access to knowledge for all, are what UNESCO calls Open Educational Resources, or OER. The term was first coined by the Organization in 1992 to designate data that is open access and free to use, for example in teaching, learning, and research. OER may stretch from the works of Bach and Mozart, to material published under open access licenses such as Creative Commons, and that can be adapted and distributed freely by its user.

Ever since, UNESCO has stepped up its efforts to ensure the actual universality of access to data and information across the globe. In 2019, the Organization’s efforts to mobilize the international community towards the achievement of this objective bore fruit, as an intergovernmental OER Recommendation was adopted in consensus by all Member States at UNESCO’s 40th General Conference.

The High-Level Dialogue saw the participation of representatives from civil society, academia and policymakers. In particular, the discussants examined the use of OER for ensuring equal access to knowledge and learning opportunities, especially in circumstances such as those currently imposed by to the COVID-19 pandemic on virtually all societies across the world. Other debated topics included how artificial intelligence and other emerging technologies can be harnessed to speed up the implementation of the OER Recommendation, as well as innovation in national implementation of OER in Morocco and in the Philippines.

The panelists concurred that Open Educational Resources constitute an essential tool for the free flow of knowledge, particularly at this pivotal moment in history where an organism invisible to the eye has generated a paradigm shift in how learners worldwide of all ages access and share knowledge. OER, then, become crucial for the continuation of learning and for building inclusive knowledge societies, as recalled in the UNESCO Call for Joint Action: Supporting Learning and Knowledge Sharing through OER, issued on 28 April 2020 in response to the ongoing pandemic.

In her concluding remarks, Ms Gordon further reminded of the upcoming International Day for Universal Access to Information, celebrated on 28 of September 2020, as an important occasion for international, regional and national actors worldwide to recognize the ever-growing relevance of Open Educational Resources for achieving universal access to information.

High-level panelists participating in this online session included:

  • Dorothy Gordon, Chair of the Intergovernmental Council for UNESCO’s Information for All Programme (IFAP)
  • Mr Mitja Jermol, Director, the International Research Centre on Artificial Intelligence (a UNESCO Category 2 Centre) and Chairholder of the UNESCO Chair on Open Technologies for OER and Open Learning at the Jožef Stefan Institute (JSI), Slovenia
  • Dr Melinda Bandalaria, Chancellor and Professor, University of the Philippines Open University, the Philippines
  • Ms Ilham Laaziz, Director, GENIE Programme, Ministry of Education, Morocco
  • Ms Zeynep Varoglu, Programme Specialist, Communication and Information Sector, UNESCO

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