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Sunday 18 August 2019
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Commentary

Accessing learning and research materials

TTUTA

AMONG THE many factors that significantly impact on teacher performance is the capacity of the teacher to access learning and research materials. This issue was discussed extensively at the recently concluded World Congress of Education International (EI) in Bangkok, Thailand.

At this global forum of educators, the view was expressed that the public good is best served by the widest and most accessible dissemination of knowledge including scholarly work and education materials.

Concerns were expressed about the patterns of inequality in accessing and creating research, education materials and other creative works that hinder the enhancement of educational and cultural participation for all irrespective of age, disability, ethnicity or indigeneity, gender identity or sexual orientation, language, marital status, migratory status, political activism, religion, socio-economic status, trade union affiliation or geographic location, among others.

While technological advancements have increased and enhanced opportunities for accessing as well as sharing knowledge, there is the serious concern that many teachers and education personnel still don’t have adequate access to ICT infrastructure and/or are prevented from making fair use of digital works due to restrictive copyright regimes, digital locks and pay walls.

Many teachers expressed the view that there is need to improve technological infrastructure as well as formats of education and research works so that they can be accessible for all and can be easily found, used and adapted by teachers, education support personnel and researchers.

The availability of textbooks and other materials for teaching and learning is a fundamental part of the right to education. Sustainable Development Goal 4 on quality education and the related Framework for Action repeatedly remind governments of their obligation to fulfil this right and to provide teachers with access to books, other learning materials and open educational resources (OER).

The importance of increasing the availability of OER for the provision of equitable and quality education for all, as well as more open and collaborative ways of teaching and learning in education institutions, was underscored.

Many condemned the fact that teachers, researchers and education support personnel often contribute to developing resources, but profiteering and commercial practices are being used to exploit the professional knowledge of teachers, researchers and education support personnel.

Open licensing, such as Creative Commons, is one way of ensuring balance, while creators exercise control over how their work can be used and at the same time ensure public dissemination of research and educational materials.

It was emphasised that publicly funded research and resources should always be accessible under an open licence. Education International has consistently advanced the position that there must be a balanced approach to copyright legislation.

The congress re-emphasised the need to defend and broaden international copyright exceptions and limitations for educational research purposes as well as for people with disabilities (as defined by the Marrakesh Treaty to Facilitate Access to Published Works by Visually Impaired Persons and Persons with Print Disabilities).

Educators advocated for the common commitment by users, educators, institutions and governments to promote copyright, OER and open access policies that foster openness and are aligned with the promotion of education and research as a public good and human right.

It was also felt that textbook, copyright, OER and open access policies should be developed and implemented in consultation with education unions in order to ensure that they comply with national quality standards for teaching and learning and that they are not subordinated to commercial imperatives, are culturally and gender-sensitive and do not undermine teachers’ and academics’ autonomy and working conditions, including their right to full and proper recognition and rewards.

It was affirmed that open access, open educational resources and other openly licensed works should not be used by governments or institutions to reduce library expenditures or investments into the development of education materials and that any savings generated should be ploughed back into teaching, research and the dissemination of knowledge.

The congress mandated that EI:

1. Continue to work in collaboration with all UN agencies, including the World Intellectual Property Organization, to address copyright exceptions and limitations for people with other disabilities that are not covered by the Marrakesh Treaty, as well as to advance the development of an international instrument for copyright exceptions and limitations for education and research purposes that addresses cross-border uses of materials.

2. Engage UNESCO regarding the implementation of the Ljubljana OER Action Plan as well as the UNESCO OER recommendation that will advise governments and monitor progress on national level OER policies and practices.

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