How much did you pay for your college degree? What if you didn’t have to pay so much for that education, especially for trade work? Is it possible to provide resources to rural communities with limited access to education, that doesn’t cost them an arm and a leg? How can we promote Open Education, locally and globally?
If you’re a software developer, you might be familiar with the concept of Open Source knowledge. Open Knowledge is a similar idea, taken from the computer science field and adapted to include any type of education and knowledge to be shared openly. UNESCO defines Open Educational Resources as “…teaching, learning and research materials in any medium, digital or otherwise, that reside in the public domain or have been released under an open license that permits no-cost access, use, adaptation and redistribution by others with no or limited restrictions.” With education prices skyrocketing and the social divide deepening in most countries, the concept of Open Education is becoming increasingly important to pursue.
As an American, I am all too familiar with the rising costs of education and the ensuing years of crushing student loan debt. Today, education costs more than ever- with statistics telling us that the cost to attend a university in the US has increased nearly eight times faster than wages have since the 1980s. Unfortunately, with the increase in tuition costs, there doesn’t seem to be a cultural shift in the necessity of receiving a college degree before entering the working world- if anything, the college degree requirement for entry-level positions has only become more strict. Most young adults are stuck between a rock and a hard place- go to college so you can get a career that will help you pay off the massive student loans required to obtain the job, or skip college and struggle to enter the professional working world, and potentially give up on working at that dream job and it’s paycheck.
That’s where the importance of open educational resources comes in: what if education didn’t have to cost so much, or one better, what if they were free? What if you could get the necessary training and certifications you need for that dream job, at home, online? This financial barrier to education is what UNESCO is trying to ameliorate, when they made an appeal to governments all over the world at the 2012 World Open Educational Resources (OER) Congress to openly license publicly funded educational materials for public use.
Like the US, the costs of a university degree are extraordinarily high in Nepal, especially for any individuals living and working in rural areas. Take for example a Nepalese university which currently charges first-year undergraduate students fees totaling 211,400 Nepalese rupees (USD $2,036). While that may not seem like much to our Western readers, when you account for the fact that the average yearly household income for any Nepalese families working in agriculture, livestock, or fishery is only 25,728 Nepalese rupees (USD $232), that number is equally astronomical as in the US. If a farmer in Nepal wants to better educate themselves on agricultural practices and studies, they would have to put themselves into massive debt to obtain that education. It’s the reason why most young adults in rural Nepal don’t go to college- their parents simply don’t have the means necessary to send them, nor can they afford to give up on the labor that their children can provide once they become adults.
Aside from avoiding the rising costs of traditional education, there are many reasons why Open Educational Resources are beneficial for so many. Maybe you are a working parent who doesn’t have the time to dedicate to being a full-time traditional student, or maybe you live in the countryside and can’t afford to drive into the city to go to a university class. Accessibility to education is as important as ever, and with the internet as our tool, information is available to more people than ever before. Freely accessible education resources are popping up all over the place- edX, KhanAcademy, Skillshare, Coursera, LinkedIn Learning, MooC, Udemy, and the list goes on.
Open knowledge is not without problems, however. The first is that certifications are not recognized from country to country, and some companies do not take them into account. When certifications are recognized by the companies, some large schools allow themselves to monetize the certification and certain reach huge prices reproducing the inequalities. The second concern is that the duration and content of the training doesn’t always correspond to classical training. This raises the question of the value of these certifications, and this question is even more important when the certification costs 100 to 2000 euros. For online courses to work, it’s necessary to adapt to the learner, to the limits of their cognitive capacity (memorization, comprehension, workload, etc.) and motivation. Training without enough content will not qualify for a university degree.
In addition, studies show that distance learning courses must be supervised by tutors and/or teachers, which doesn’t help to reduce their cost of production. Open resources contain their share of inequalities because using online resources is based on the principle that learners have access to the network (the right technological devices, access to the internet, etc), that the learner knows how to use these tools, that they have a good digital literacy, and finally they have learned to learn, a necessary step to be able to follow courses independently. At Open Team we understood this by setting up Blended Learning, in order to take into account as much as possible the sources of inequalities in the learning process, related to OERs.
Here at Open Team, we are taking into consideration both the benefits and drawbacks of OERs to the heart of our programming. In the coming months, we will finally be taking the leap of developing our first Accelerator Program at the ScaleSchool in Nepal. We will be developing an in person and online platform that encourages farmers to switch to organic practices, by teaching them agricultural studies and training them with the skills to make the change. We are developing our program to be free or low-cost, in the hopes of encouraging as many people as possible to educate themselves and make better decisions for the environment in the process.
It is our hope that as we grow accessibility to education in the rural municipality of Agnisair Krishnasaraban, we will grow the community’s interests and knowledge of organic foods and practices, making Nepal a greener and healthier place to live. Eventually, we look forward to applying our accelerator theory to other projects around the globe!
To echo the rallying cry of technology activists of the 1990s advocating for an internet without commercial barriers, “information wants to be free”! Let’s make it happen together, for a greener future.