Intellectual Property Watch has referred to the recent paper published by the International Publishers’ Association (IPA) which expressed concerns about the sustainability, quality and efficacy of Open Educational Resources (OERs). On sustainability, the IPA argues that there is no motivation to keep OERs updated because they are free to use and adapt. The IPA further contends that the quality assurance mechanisms, which are readily available to ensure that publisher-developed materials are thoroughly researched and designed, are not available for OERs. The IPA also takes the view that there is no reliable analysis which shows how much OERs have improved learning outcomes.
Many reactions have trailed the IPA’s position paper, from arguments that publisher-developed materials and OERs are not mutually exclusive to arguments that publisher-developed materials are even more prone to error given that the primary aim of publishers is to get books to the market as quick as possible.
While not denying the importance of sustainability and efficacy (quality is always very crucial) to any educational material, those are not in my view, the most important issues for Nigeria and I daresay, Africa.
What are important issues for Nigeria?
Access to affordable education: what is the age of recommended textbooks in Nigerian universities? I will provide an example. The recommended textbook for a third year law student taking Contract law in the university is the Second Edition of Professor Itse Sagay’s Nigerian Law of Contract, published around 1999, which costs about
N2,000. Chitty’s Law of Contract used mainly by many established law firms costs about N125,000 (£495). Would students who have no choice but to read Sagay not be better educated if they had OERs to make up for any lapses in textbooks caused by changes in law? Court judgments can be made available for students to access on BAILII-like sites.
Eradicating(Reducing) piracy: quite frequently, the Nigerian Copyright Commission (NCC) impounds thousands of pirated copies of textbooks imported by book marketers to sell in Nigeria. If educators and students were to make (greater) use of OERs, wouldn’t that reduce the incentive to purchase (or sell) pirated copies of commercial textbooks?
Stage of development: the flexibilities of cost, freedom to distribute and adapt are more suited to Nigeria’s stage of development. If the main goal is to ensure access to education, then, OERs by virtue of the flexibilities mentioned above, would ensure just that and even more.In my view, OERs have not begun competing with publisher-developed materials in most of Africa. What should occupy our minds more than the IPA’s questions should be: how do we make OERs available and accessible to educators and students? How do we ascertain the quality of OERs available for use?
UNESCO raises other issues in its Report here.
In any event, the propriety or otherwise of how much OERs should be used would be better addressed by educators and also students, rather than the IPA which is an interested party.
For anti-IPA Position Paper, see here.
For the myth of commercial textbook reliability, see here.