The impact of Quality Control Culture on OER

Dear OER activists,

This time it’s a bit too long for a tweet!

Joyce, an educational quality control advocate from Kenya caught me on a bad hair day with her observations of the future of open educational resources (OER) recently. She wrote:

…Uncertainty about the Quality of the OER. In countries such as Kenya where curriculum content has to be quality assured, the policy makers, teachers/instructors and students are not at ease with OER. Quality assurance for OER would be useful in such circumstances. The stakeholders would probaly consider using and reusing OER if they are assured of their quality!!

With many OER developers, I suspect, I can probably share my cynical view that this educational quality control culture (as it is in Namibia) is simply a white lie called foreign donor educational diplomacy. As I see it, it’s an opportunity provided to foreign (and inevitably proprietary) expertise (with an overdose of PhDs!) to make major bucks out of short-lived, drop-and-run consultancies to a system where, feel-good policy and strategic plans aside, ministry of education *decision makers* are mostly near-geriatric “OER-in-ICT-illiterate” males steeped in neolithic traditions and conventions, who have cowed the local pedagogical skills-base into a state of despair about their *own* worth in potentially contributing significant OER to burgeoning international sites such as the WikiEducator and Wikipedia, let alone their own educational institutions!

An old colleague of mine, a retired advisor to several ministers in Namibia, once remarked that the best thing that could happen to education in Namibia was to take the 30-odd middle-management decision makers in the ministry, shoot them, and replace them with young, ambitious Namibian women. I would tend to agree, seeing the state of government education decay in Namibia today.

It’s gotten so bad in Namibia that even our minister of defence, Charles Namoloh, said recently “ the Bantu education system under South African rule was better than the current state of educational affairs.”

Embarrassingly, recently appointed Deputy Minister of Education, David Namwandi, responded: “Despite the fact that this ministry is supposed to be the leading ministry, a strategic plan was never developed for it.”

Absolute poppycock!

Since independence in 1990, foreign interventions by USAID, World Bank and others have mesmerized our myopic ministry officials with several grandiose schemes, all of which became strategic plans of one form or another – iNET, NETA, ETSIP, NQA, NTA and Tech!Na are all examples of such ill-conceived squandermania doomed to failure!

Former National Assembly member Nora Schimming-Chase described Namibia’s education system – “the business of the whole society” – as ‘disastrous’.
 According to her, “the biggest mistake we made at Independence was to lose out on all the opportunities we had. Instead of drawing on all those opportunities we opted for a foreign [education] system”.

My advice to Joyce and others caught in such quality assurance traps is get a life and *become* Wiki-Educators!

Quality control is a process by which “expertise” reviews the quality of all factors involved in the production of educational resources, providing controls, defined and well-managed processes, performance and integrity criteria, and identification of records, dependent on the competence of the individual as determined by their knowledge, skills, experience, and qualifications. Obviously human elements such as integrity, confidence, organisational culture, motivation, team spirit, and quality relationships will also affect the outcomes of such expertise. In other words, the quality of any expert outputs is at risk if any of these aspects is deficient in any way. The very democratic wiki-nature of WikiEducator and Wikipedia enables instant and continuous quality control, by allowing anyone and everyone to participate in improving articles and wiki resources as a whole (not just one overpaid foreign expert with a PhD:-)). While there will always be a few oxygen-thieves who abuse this privilege by vandalizing or propagandizing, the vast majority of people who edit WikiEducator and Wikipedia compose articles responsibly with the common good of mankind at heart – these Wikis are a public resource intended to make knowledge freely available to everyone in the world, and contributing participants take this very seriously.

Information and media literacy are crucial for today’s learners, and essential skills include the abilities to create and communicate ideas, and to understand their responsibility to the shared knowledge on the Web.

Any vaguely ICT-literate child, parent or educator (i.e., someone who can use a mobile phone to SMS, do Facebook and download MxIT) , frustrated by the lack of “real” education capacity and resources in government schools, should be able to benefit from the net-effect of these fantastic online resources, even if only by means of a mobile-phone.

Mobile phones offer a way to bridge this conventional ‘have-technology-get educated’ divide. For learners in developing countries such as Namibia, the ownership of a personal computer in the near future remains unlikely, but the chances for ownership of a mobile phone are high. The ubiquitousness of mobile phones, in conjunction with their internet and multimedia capabilities, make them an increasingly affordable technology. Moderately-priced mobile phones can create text, photo, video and audio content which can be easily uploaded to the Internet and shared with others on diverse social networks via multimedia messaging and other web-enabling applications. The introduction of the iPhone heralded a new generation of mobile phones, with fast processors, LCD screens, and full web-browsing. Similar, but low-cost, smart phones are predicted and will likely open up pricing models that don’t involve costly monthly fees or long-term contracts.
I think the salient questions to ask today are:

How can learners and teachers from marginalized populations obtain affordable, simple, and universally accessible means to meaningfully participate in the global, shared knowledge of the World Wde Web? How can we help learners and teachers develop an awareness of their ability to create and share useful information and creative content?

Food for though, not so?


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