Less of a choice but a necessity: A Case for OER Institutional and National Policies
In a context where textbooks and printed teaching and learning materials are still scarce and cost a fortune when they are available due to the fact that they are procured using hard currencies such as the dollar and the euro, the advent of Open Educational Resources (OERs) and their accessibility via Internet could be a bonanza for Africa, both economically and educationally.
The Concept of OERs is defined as “any educational resources (including curriculum maps, course materials, textbooks, streaming videos, multimedia applications, podcasts, and any other materials that have been designed for use in teaching and learning) that are openly available for use by educators and students, without an accompanying need to pay royalties or license fees” (Butcher, 2011).
The attractiveness of OERs is primarily economic as the prohibitive cost of teaching and learning materials has held Africa back in the provision of quality education at all levels. In tertiary institutions, for instance, libraries are poorly stacked with relevant material both students and their instructors can use to make learning effective and meaningful. In a few countries, there are universities without proper libraries (e.g. Mali) where virtual libraries are the only hope for bridging the textbooks divide between less endowed universities and their rich counterparts in the developed world. Therefore, what is at stake here is the opportunity for expanding opportunities for quality education at all levels in Africa.
However, and with very few exceptions, initiatives to develop institutional, national, sub-regional and regional OER policies are still very limited in number and scope. For example, at the national level only a few countries like Kenya have national and institutional policies in place (UNESCO, 2015). The institutional policies, however, are mainly limited to higher education institutions even if Kenya has sub-sector specific and thematic OER programs and strategies in secondary education, agriculture, and non-formal education (NFE) driven by international and regional actors. Among the initiatives, the AVU teacher education OER modules that cover 12 universities in Africa and which are aimed at training math and science teachers can be cited as among the most prominent. Secondly, the Teacher Education in Sub-Saharan Africa (TESSA) initiative which seeks to improve the quality of classroom practice and access to teacher education resources across Sub-Saharan Africa has made impact on OERs development at the basic and secondary education levels. It operates a network of school teachers and teacher educators across the continent and provide them access to a wide range of OERs. Lastly, there is the OER Africa initiative established by the South African Institute for Distance Education (Saide) that sets out to support higher education institutions across Africa in the development and use of Open OER to enhance teaching and learning.
However, these initiatives are still not enough; other strategies are needed to expand the institutionalization of OERs in education in Africa as the way out of the paucity of teaching and learning materials that mars education quality.