Breaking barriers to equitable education access: The role of open licensing


 Presenter (s) Simon James, EDC (Chair and Presenter) Kyle Barker, The Asia Foundation (Presenter) Rebecca Chandler Leege, Worldreader (Presenter) Maria Jose Castillo, Juarez and Associates (Presenter)
 Discussant (s) Amber Gove, RTI

At a time of “epochal precarity” as outlined in the conference theme, it becomes essential to re-examine current education policies and practices, and to consider new ways of approaching education that shift current dynamics.

The global book supply chain is just one of the systems that requires reconsideration. Built on practices and industries that reinforce existing power dynamics, the current system does not sufficiently address issues of inequality and imbalances in access. In the current system, access to appropriate reading materials is often inappropriately restricted, with larger markets being favored over smaller ones and products developed based on perceived profit opportunities, leaving many without appropriate access to sufficient materials. All of this serves to further existing gaps in access to quality education.

However, in book development and elsewhere, disruptive alternatives are arising to “business as usual” approaches. Open licensing, which expands on the concept of copyright by allowing various stakeholders as well as the public to access and use, copy, and distribute materials at no cost under the terms of the License, is one approach that introduces a challenge to these standard practices – allowing for translation, adaptation, and new business models that shift payment models and the power dynamics at play in the book industry, with the potential to help in closing gaps in access to quality educational materials.

Through open licensing, high quality materials can be adapted to reach wider and more diverse populations – they can be translated into new languages, and adapted to include accessibility features for learners with disabilities. Further, new business models utilizing open licensing can reduce costs, which can in turn provide for the provision of more materials in classrooms or in homes.

Although there are potential benefits of open licensing, as well as contractual obligations by some donors to openly license materials they fund, many working in global education still find it difficult to implement. In addition many ministries of education voice concerns about adaptation and sale of curricular materials. Publishers, too, cite concerns about receiving a return on their investments when using open licensing (for example, as highlighted at the 2018 African Book Industry Stakeholders conference hosted by the Association for the Development of Education in Africa (ADEA) in Abidjan).

Despite these challenges, there is increasing momentum to engage with open licensing. Government donors are increasingly requiring open licenses on materials produced with their funding. Additionally, the advent of digital technologies has led to disruptions in traditional copyright practices, making content much easier to copy and share, such as described in the 2018 primer on open licensing for African publishers by Butcher, Levey and von Gogh. But besides this, open licensing can have value for publishers in that it can increase the visibility and discoverability of their work (ibid). Publishers are also developing innovative ways to adapt to open licensing while maintaining their for-profit mandates – for example Butcher, Zuma and Waweru’s 2019 analysis of business models for publishers of children’s books outlines opportunities for providing value-added services, using models that rely on providing content as a service, charging fees for printing, and earning revenue through advertising, among others.

Open licensing is a growing trend and has the potential to disrupt the status quo and to shift power dynamics in terms of access to appropriate content, both by shifting cost burdens, and by allowing for adaptation to better suit underserved populations. However, thought is needed to ensure that the benefits of this movement are harnessed, without resulting in unintended harm.

The panel will include presentations that consider the issues and implications of open licensing for implementers as well as the publishers with whom they work, and will offer case studies on the use of open licensing in education programs in multiple contexts. Panelists offer thoughtful approaches on disrupting the status quo, while partnering with stakeholders to find sustainable paths forward.

Sofia Cozzolino, of Save the Children, will present an introduction to considerations and implications of using open licenses, and will share here experiences partnering with local publishers to develop openly licensed materials in Rwanda.

Kyle Barker, of the Asia Foundation, will discuss the Asia Foundation’s Let’s Read regional initiative and work with RTI in Cambodia and the Philippines, where they are creating and distributing openly licensed material. He will also present work they are doing with publishers in Myanmar, Indonesia, Cambodia, and Nepal to make open licensed materials available in print editions for commercial sale.

Rebecca Leege, of World Reader, will present Worldreader’s digital licensing model and how the organization is building social cohesion through its work and support of publishers. She will share findings from a survey on metadata standards conducted with East African publishers to build capacity around cohesive content models that better support discoverability of content for education stakeholders.

Maria Jose Castillo, of Juarez and Associates, will present the open licensing as a mechanism for enhancing educational resource development strategy, for the Literacy Model in bilingual and intercultural environments under the Lifelong Learning Project from USAID in Guatemala.

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