Open Education is on its way

Obtaining a quality education is the foundation to improving people’s lives and to achieving sustainable development. While there are many world-wide methodologies in place to assess the quality of traditionally formal education systems, this is not yet the case for open education.

Open education is education without academic admission requirements and is typically offered online. Open education broadens access to the learning and training traditionally offered through formal education systems.

There are a number of concerns regarding the implementation of open education systems. These include a potential lack of administrative oversight and quality assurance systems for educators/materials in some programmes, a lack of equal access to technologies required for students’ full participation in online education initiatives, and questions regarding the use of copyrighted materials.

Ultimately, open education calls for multi-stakeholder action.

In Europe, policy approaches to open education vary between countries, while at the European level, the European Commission, ministries, regional authorities, associations, educational institutions and NGOs are key stakeholders.[1]

At the 7th EuChemS Chemistry Congress in Liverpool in August this year, a panel discussion “Education and Empowering the Future Global Workforce” was jointly organised by the European Chemical Society and the American Chemical Society on the role of (open) education, global collaboration and the current job market.[2] The panellists discussed the challenges education is facing nowadays, namely, the development of the skills needed to work globally to develop solutions for scientifically, politically, and economically complex global challenges, in addition to providing knowledge. Quality education, copyright, funding of open education and ethical issues were some of aspects emphasised. This panel debate was a contribution to the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals, and in particular to  the goals Quality Education (Number 4), and Partnership for the goals (number 17).

Open educational resources (OER)

One aspect of “opening up” education is the development and adoption of open educational resources (OER). Open educational resources are any type of educational materials that are in the public domain or introduced with an open license. The nature of these open materials means that anyone can legally and freely copy, use, adapt and re-share them.

The 2nd World Open Educational Resources Congress presented 41 recommended actions to mainstream open-licensed resources to help all Member States build Knowledge Societies.[3] Ljubljana OER Action plan 2017 was adopted to support quality open education and recommends that educational stakeholders should further ensure that a set of indicators, monitoring and evaluation mechanisms are put in place to support these action areas. Wherever OER is well planned and executed, it can provide vast opportunities to improve learning outcomes, teaching quality and effective knowledge sharing. OER also provides opportunities to strengthen the democratisation of knowledge by making learning and teaching materials available to learners and educators at a larger scale while at the same time providing affordable educational options. If pre-conditions for quality education are in place, OER can fulfil its potential.

In addition to its policy role, UNESCO has also taken a bottom-up approach in OER, an example being the “Open Education for a better world” programme. Within this programme, the UNESCO Chair on Open Technologies for Open Educational Resources (OER) and Open Learning, and the University of Nova Gorica, Slovenia, hosted in July this year, the first 14 candidates who were selected from all over the world, to be guided online towards the implementation of their first online courses, together with their mentors and invited speakers.[4] One of the projects within this programme, which I had an opportunity to develop, is ‘Why infrastructures matter’. Its first part on “What and where to study in the EU”, opens on 7 November 2018 and is freely available through http://www.elearning-euchems.eu.

To summarise, open education is on its way, irreversibly, but with many challenges ahead. It brings opportunities to contribute to its shaping as well as responsibilities. Let us make it in a sustainable and responsible way, for generations to come.

Nineta Hrastelj
General Secretary, EuChemS

[1] Policy Approaches to Open Education, Case Studies from 28 EU Member States (OpenEdu Policies), JRC 2017.
[2] ECC7 panel discussion: “Education and Empowering the Future Global Workforce”, EuChemS, American Chemical Society
[3] Ljubljana OER Action Plan 2017, https://en.unesco.org/news/ljubljana-oer-action-plan-2017-adopted-support-quality-open-educational-resources
[4] “Open Education for a better world”, UNESCO