Open Educational Resources: An equitable future for education in Scotland

by Lorna M. Campbell and Joe Wilson

In the 8 years since the launch of Open Scotland, the aims of this voluntary cross sector initiative, and the Scottish Open Education Declaration [1], are more relevant than ever:

To raise awareness of open education, encourage the sharing of open educational resources, and explore the potential of open policy and practice to benefit all sectors of Scottish education.

The global COVID 19 pandemic has highlighted the critical importance of open educational resources (OER) in achieving United Nations Sustainable Development Goal 4 [2] to ensure inclusive and equitable quality education and promote lifelong learning opportunities for all. Open educational resources are 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 [3].

At the height of the global COVID-19 pandemic, UNESCO estimated that 1.57 billion learners in 191 countries worldwide had had their education disrupted. In response to this unprecedented crisis, the organisation issued a Call for Joint Action [4] to support learning and knowledge sharing through open educational resources. The call highlights the important role that OER can play in supporting the continuation of learning in both formal and informal settings, meeting the needs of individual learners, including people with disabilities and individuals from marginalized or disadvantaged groups, with a view to building more inclusive, sustainable and resilient knowledge societies.

This Call for Joint Action builds on UNESCO’s 2019 Recommendation on Open Educational Resources [5], which represents a formal commitment to actively support the global adoption of OER. The Recommendation recognises that

“in building inclusive Knowledge Societies, Open Educational Resources (OER) can support quality education that is equitable, inclusive, open and participatory as well as enhancing academic freedom and professional autonomy of teachers by widening the scope of materials available for teaching and learning.”

Open educational resources can also play an important role in addressing the key challenges facing Scotland in the coming decades; environmental, technological, social and economic change.

In the Scotland 2030 Schooling, Education and Learning Report [6], Scotland’s Futures Forum called for an education system of the future that engages with, challenges and influences all these changes, in addition to preparing young people for a world where fast-paced change will be the norm.

Without equitable access to diverse, customisable, high-quality educational resources there is a real danger that these changes will entrench, rather than overcome, existing inequalities. Access to open educational resources can help to dismantle the obstacles that prevent learners from accessing and participating in education and knowledge creation. Furthermore it is only through open and equitable access to education that we can ensure that every child can enjoy their rights enshrined in the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child [7], regardless of their ethnicity, gender, religion, language, or abilities. Ultimately, this is what knowledge equity and open educational resources are about; counteracting structural inequalities and systemic barriers to foster knowledge transfer, enhance quality and sustainability, support social inclusion, create a culture of collaboration and sharing, and enable learners to become fully engaged digital citizens.

  1. Scottish Open Education Declaration https://declaration.openscot.net/
  2. UN Sustainable Development Goal 4 https://sdgs.un.org/goals/goal4
  3. UNESCO Open Educational Resources https://en.unesco.org/themes/building-knowledge-societies/oer
  4. UNESCO Call for Joint Action: Supporting Learning and Knowledge Sharing through Open Educational Resources (OER) https://en.unesco.org/sites/default/files/covid19_joint_oer_call_en.pdf
  5. UNESCO Recommendation on Open Educational Resources https://en.unesco.org/themes/building-knowledge-societies/oer/recommendation
  6. Scotland 2030 Schooling, Education and Learning Report https://www.scotlandfutureforum.org/scotland2030-future-schooling/
  7. United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child https://www.unicef.org.uk/what-we-do/un-convention-child-rights/

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