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Coalition Calls for Opening Access to Publicly Funded School Materials

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A coalition of educators, colleges, and foundations is urging governments and publishers to make publicly funded educational materials available online for free, according to a declaration released by the group last week.

Releasing educational materials into the “open education” arena would give students, regardless of income level or geographic location, access to valuable curricula, and help educators continually improve and update learning materials, advocates say.

The movement has especially significant implications for developing countries, according to its supporters.

What is being called the Cape Town Open Education Declaration arose from a meeting in September convened by the Open Society Institute, based in New York City, and the Shuttleworth Foundation, of Cape Town, South Africa, where the meeting was held. Twenty-seven participants—including Jimmy Wales, the founder of the online encyclopedia Wikipedia—collaborated to draft the document.

Publishers Skeptical

The coalition wants to raise awareness among educators and learners about the open education movement, which calls for free sharing of educational resources, and encourages them to get involved in creating, using, and editing the existing resources.

“By getting the message out there, we hope that more educators and students will become aware of what’s available,” said Melissa Hagemann, a program manager for the Open Society Institute’s information program. “Our intent is … to really provide a road map and outline for open access.”

The declaration calls on authors, publishers, and institutions to release their resources for dissemination through open licenses so information can be revised, translated, and shared.

Officials in the textbook-publishing industry doubt the practicality of such suggestions. “There’s a great deal of effort and development that goes into creating instructional materials,” said Jay D. Diskey, the executive director of the school division of the Association of American Publishers, which has headquarters in New York City and Washington. “It’s not an industry that can operate for free.”

Vol. 27, Issue 21, Page 4

Published in Print: January 30, 2008, as Coalition Calls for Opening Access to Publicly Funded School Materials
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