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Free the content!

South African open source apostle Mike Shuttleworth and Wikipedia co-founder Jimmy Wales have joined a call issued in Cape Town today for governments and publishers to make publicly-funded educational materials available freely over the Internet.

Shuttleworth and Wales are pushing a “Cape Town Open Education Declaration” as part of “a dynamic effort to make learning and teaching materials available to everyone online, regardless of income or geographic location”.

The declaration encourages teachers and students around the world to join a growing movement and use the Web to share, remix and translate classroom materials to make education more accessible, effective and flexible.

Wales says open education “allows every person on earth to access and contribute to the vast pool of knowledge on the Web. Everyone has something to teach and everyone has something to learn.”

“Open-sourcing education doesn't just make learning more accessible, it makes it more collaborative, flexible and locally relevant,” adds Shuttleworth.

According to the declaration, teachers, students and communities would benefit if publishers and governments made publicly-funded educational materials freely available online. Wales and Shuttleworth say this will give students unlimited access to high-quality, constantly improving course materials, just as Wikipedia has done in the world of reference materials.

Open education makes the link between teaching, learning and the collaborative culture of the Internet. It includes creating and sharing materials used in teaching, as well as new approaches to learning where people create and shape knowledge together.

These new practices, proponents say, promise to provide students with educational materials that are individually tailored to their learning style. There are already over 100 000 such open educational resources available on the Internet.

The declaration is the result of a meeting of 30 open education leaders in Cape Town, organised late last year by the Open Society Institute and the Shuttleworth Foundation.

Advocates say open education is of particular relevance in developing and emerging economies, creating the potential for affordable textbooks and learning materials. It opens the door to small-scale, local content producers likely to create more diverse offerings than large multinational publishing houses.

“Cultural diversity and local knowledge are a critical part of open education,” explains Eve Gray, of the Centre for Educational Technology, at the University of Cape Town. “Countries like SA need to start producing and sharing educational materials built on their own diverse cultural heritage. Open education promises to make this kind of diverse publishing possible.”

Other signatories include musician Peter Gabriel, president of Commonwealth of Learning Sir John Daniel, and former director for Education at the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development Thomas Alexander.

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