Education, Academia and Research Taskforce

Contribution addressing especially Chapters One and Four of the operational part of the WSIS-Tunis* documents on follow-up/ implementation and the way forward

Contact: Divina Frau-Meigs

Education Priorities for Knowledge Sharing

Two Principles for education: knowledge sharing and open access:

As Information Society is developing into Knowledge Societies, the very concept of “knowledge” has to be revisited since it becomes a collective process involving the entire scope of society. It has to be expanded to include such notions as distributed intelligence, integrated networks, information sharing, information literacy, open access, public domain, multilingualism, etc.

In knowledge societies, knowledge exists only if it is shared; if not, knowledge is null. To be shared, knowledge must be in open access.

As a consequence, Education is placed at the heart of the matter and confronted with the challenge of fast ICT development; the education community at large has to operate a change of paradigm and re-assess itself in a spirit of complete openness. It must also be endowed with adequate means of action:

- to set up plural patterns for the production and dissemination of knowledge;
- to implement multi-stakeholder partnerships;
- to assimilate the use of media and ICT in new online learning processes;
- to define new approaches for research;
- to be assessed according to new criteria and methods both transparent and fair…

1. Priority issues

As a starting point, and in keeping with those principles of knowledge “sharing” and “openness”, four major priority issues are considered here as particularly relevant to the WSIS agenda, while allowing a rapid scaling up of means, materials and resources, to fight against the digital divide and foster sustainable development.

1.1. Teacher Education with ICT

As knowledge mediator and provider, the teacher holds a key role in a “knowledge society”. In that capacity, no ICT system, however sophisticated, can be substituted to him. His function is even more essential in countries where technologies are rare. Yet ICT can provide powerful tools to support education, either in schools or in distance education facilities. Such tools must be developed and used in priority for teachers’ training, to increase their number and qualification. Even in countries where technologies are rare, an adequate resort to available resources (for instance a radio channel) can help, empower and comfort whole generations of teachers, especially if accompanied by open cognition pedagogy.

Yet learning with ICT is sometimes considered by academic authorities as unworthy of a proper degree. Thus pleading for ICT is not enough. Official authorities should enforce that properly accredited ICT training sessions lead to regular degrees providing the teacher with proof of competence, and the guarantee of a better career.

1.2. Open Courseware

The movement in favour of unrestricted access to knowledge has recently led to the setting up of open courseware sites providing online free teaching material for individual or collective use at educational non-profit institutions. Materials are published under a variety of rules concerning edition, translation, incorporation of external material, intellectual property rights etc., establishing the degree of openness of the system. As it often works without barriers of entry (no password) or geographical frontier, it helps to promote long distance training.

Although there is no business model for Open Access as yet, it appears that such an approach can generate huge savings in the long run and help developing countries to bridge the “digital divide” in education. Provided open courseware is submitted to serious accreditation and quality assurance processes, the Taskforce considers that it should be developed, in connection with a movement in favour of the adoption of free software and an exemption of Intellectual Property Rights in matters of education, documentation and archiving in non-profit contexts.

1.3. Media and ICT education

With radio, television, internet, mobile telephone, the young generations are immersed in an environment of global communication and media which they must learn to understand and master. Thus media and ICT education have to be positioned at the centre of the education process, with both a critical and a capacity-building approach. Nowadays people must be both ICT literate and information literate. From school time onward, they need to know why, when and how to use these tools and think critically about the perspective they provide; they also must learn how to inform and be informed, via the networks, in a learn-to-learn lifelong process.

Extending beyond simple literacy, this whole educational process deserves to be called “media and ICT education”. It is a pillar of democracy and one of the elementary rights of every citizen. This is why, while acknowledging the differences between countries as regards the nature and development of media, the Taskforce recommends that this specific education should be introduced wherever possible within national curricula as well as in tertiary, non-formal and lifelong education.

1.4. New status for research

Within the context of knowledge societies, research on media and ICT needs to be enlarged, and revitalised in some sectors. Current research on ICT should not remain excessively concentrated on technological innovation and market development. It should also invest in rather neglected areas, such as that of users, and of the social and cultural implications of the Information Society. But socially-oriented research should not develop apart from, or just in addition to, but in close connection with industrial research from the earliest stages.

The global scope of the issues concerned implies that research should be extensive and long term, trans-national and trans-disciplinary. It also implies that the scientific community should work in close connection with civil society, the industry and political institutions, amplifying the participatory process at work in the WSIS. As with teachers and ICT professionals, the role of researchers in knowledge societies should become fully acknowledged with a specific status.

2.Implementation and follow up

2.1 Teacher Education with ICT

The Taskforce recommends that a complete mapping, together with case studies, should be established on the subject, to be presented with recommendations for follow up action, at a Round Table set up as an event for the Tunis Summit. A concrete and systematic implementation should then be programmed at regional level, with proper financing, with clear longitudinal indicators and evaluation tools. The taskforce recommends also that the essential role of free software be evaluated to take into account essential parameters, like collaborative learning, consolidation, hybridization of systems and tools, in a local perspective.

As teaching is mostly to be promoted in a non-commercial, public environment, better synergy should be implemented between open source backbone (i.e. complete continuity from operating system to desktop software) and “open cognition” pedagogy. This cognitive pedagogy dwells on collaborative approaches, implicit and explicit knowledge development, reciprocal exchanges of experience and competence, tutorials in distributed intelligence networks, etc. It promotes teaching methods adapted to the actual possibilities of ICTs, and connects them to intellectual development, in an environment in which the brain informs the ICTs and conversely the ICTs inform the brain.

2.2 Open Courseware

The Taskforce recommends the creation of an open courseware consortium under the aegis of an international organisation, in collaboration with NGOs in the field. Such a consortium would enable duly accredited non-profit institutions to cover all curricular needs in higher education. This initiative would help create a body of standards and formats to regulate the development of knowledge sharing at global level.

2.3 Media and ICT Education

The Taskforce recommends the drafting of an international document providing a rationale for Media and ICT education and modular curriculum development, and its implementation at national level, along the lines developed by the MENTOR project, which defines a clear model of learning progression and outcomes both in terms of competence and performance.

Media and ICT education practices and materials should be pooled and consolidated by an international observatory, whose role would be to help language translations and dissemination of materials as well as evaluation of best practices. This recommendation also claims for an “education exemption” of the IP laws, in non-commercial settings, for all kinds of teaching materials.

2.4 Research

The Taskforce recommends the creation and implementation of an “International Researchers Charter for Knowledge Societies”, currently being drafted by IAMCR. This Charter aims at establishing the rights and obligations of the research community in the Information Age. To ensure independence of researchers an international complaints bureau could be set up, as an arbitration instrument to solve disputes in an equitable way.

For internet governance, these priorities entail interoperability and openness of the system at both ends. For financing mechanisms, these priorities entail the establishment of a Universal Service Fund, especially directed at education and capacity-building, managed by multi-stakeholder partnerships.

Summary of our recommendations to establish a roadmap for an “open cognition” platform and the way forward:

4 Tools for “Open cognition” platform:

1- an open source backbone (continuity from operating system to desktop software)

2- an education exemption to IP rights

3- a universal service fund (or education rate)

4- interoperability and open-endedness of internet and other ICTs to come

4 Strategies for human implementation of “Open cognition” platform:

1- teacher training via ICTs and Open cognition pedagogy

2- open courseware consortium and a validation body

3- media and ICT curriculum and an observatory

4- international researchers’ charter and a complaints bureau

* WSIS Tunis = World Symposium of the Information Society in Tunis, November 2005 in Tunis, part two

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