The Cape Town Declaration: A Vision for Open Education

For years, thousands of teachers and students around the world have been applying the principles of free software, free culture and Web 2.0 to education. Their work has produced such pioneering projects as MIT’s OpenCourseWare, which has put the course materials of nearly 2,000 MIT courses online; Rice University’s Connexions, which is a collaborative course-creating website; and the One Laptop Per Child project, which plans to distribute a $150 kid-friendly laptop to millions of children in developing countries.

The so-called open educational resources movement, or OER, has now reached a sufficient critical mass that thirty of its leaders met in Cape Town, South Africa, in September 2007 to strategize about the future. One upshot is the Cape Town Declaration on Open Education, which was recently released. The Declaration is an attempt to announce a vision of open education to the world, rally support for it and spur new discussion.

Here is an excerpt:

We are on the cusp of a global revolution in teaching and learning. Educators worldwide are developing a vast pool of educational resources on the Internet, open and free for all to use. These educators are creating a world where each and every person on earth can access and contribute to the sum of all human knowledge. They are also planting the seeds of a new pedagogy where educators and learners create, shape and evolve knowledge together, deepening their skills and understanding as they go.

This emerging open education movement combines the established tradition of sharing good ideas with fellow educators and the collaborative, interactive culture of the Internet. It is built on the belief that everyone should have the freedom to use, customize, improve and redistribute educational resources without constraint. Educators, learners and others who share this belief are gathering together as part of a worldwide effort to make education both more accessible and more effective.

There are many barriers to realizing this vision. Most educators remain unaware of the growing pool of open educational resources. Many governments and educational institutions are either unaware or unconvinced of the benefits of open education. Differences among licensing schemes for open resources create confusion and incompatibility. And, of course, the majority of the world does not yet have access to the computers and networks that are integral to most current open education efforts. These barriers can be overcome, but only by working together.

The Cape Town Declaration is at once a vision, a call for broad international support and a spur to discussion. To date, some 750 learners, educators, trainers, authors, schools, colleges, universities, publishers, unions, professional societies, policymakers, governments and foundations have signed the Declaration. Individuals and institutions can sign the Declaration by going here.