The second half of session 4 of the UNESCO Virtual Conference on Open Educational Resources focused on issues related to cultural and language differences. The discussion was launched by a statement from Mamado Ndoye, Executive Secretary, Association for the Development of Education in Africa (ADEA). _______JH
We are coming to the end of our session on users and the use of OER, and I would like to introduce our final discussant. Dr Mamadou Ndoye is the Executive Secretary of the Association for the Development of Education In Africa (ADEA) and former Minister of Education in Senegal. He will comment on language and cultural issues related to OER, one of the topics that has already engaged our group during this session. We will now give Dr Ndoye the floor.
Thank you, Susan.
The production and dissemination of educational resources for open learning create new opportunities for accelerating progress toward education for all, narrowing the knowledge divide around the world, and combating inequality and poverty. Developing countries, it is hoped, will be able to take advantage of these resources to catch up to the scientific and technological advances recorded in developed countries. I would like to highlight two barriers to such a development that are worth discussing in greater depth.
The first relates to language: the dominance of English for the production of OER limits participation, for several reasons. First, non-English-speaking countries and learners are to some degree excluded as resources are not accessible. Second, translation offers only a partial solution to this problem. If the full benefits of these resources are to be realized, it is necessary to have a real capacity for the adaptation of language – rather than mere translation – to the needs and modes of understanding of local contexts. As the poorest and most destitute countries and learners do not have such capabilities, there is a risk that these resources will further increase the gap between the richest and the poorest.
This point leads to the second barrier, which concerns cultural differences. It is both an extension of the language issue and a much broader problem in North-South relations. The virtual monopoly of developed countries over the production of OER relegates developing countries to the role of mere consumers. The problem is that the conditions under which resources are produced, and the languages used as vehicles for their delivery, result in products that are culturally determined, in terms of both their approach and their content. Analysis of these products reveals methods of breaking down and understanding reality, conceptions and interpretations of the world, normative social practices, ethical and social values, and responses rooted in certain cultural circumstances – in short, elements essential and specific to the cultural contexts of the developers. All this raises at least three questions:
* Do these problems of cultural understanding, which condition the ability to interpret and adapt OER to other cultural contexts, render these resources still more inaccessible?
*With the driving force of the explosion in communications media behind it, will the spread of OER be inherently conducive to the denial of non-Western cultures and, through globalization, to the imposition of a cultural standard based on the dominant Anglo-American model?
*Does the division of roles in which the North is responsible for production and the South confined to consumption, combined with the flooding of the education market by OER, tend to atrophy the endogenous potential of developing country institutions for research, development, training and higher education?
These questions are not intended to challenge the intrinsic value of OER, but to call for in-depth consideration of the conditions of their production, use and transfer. To highlight not only the opportunities but the risks and challenges associated with such resources, one must take into account a number of dimensions – philosophical and ethical, cultural and social, political and economic.
To conclude this message, I would like to raise three questions relating to these challenges:
*Might it be possible to couple OER with intercultural procedures and tools that encourage users – both teachers and learners – to assert ownership of these resources from the standpoint of their linguistic and cultural contexts?
*Can content development be made sufficiently flexible to allow adaptation of these materials to the variety of needs and situations encountered in different contexts?
*Can we meet the challenge of promoting, on an intercultural and multilingual basis, frameworks and networks for dialogue, interaction and cooperative development of OER, in order to include developing-country actors as active stakeholders in the production process?
I look forward to your comments. Mamadou NDOYE
Executive Secretary, Association for the Development of Education in Africa (ADEA)