In 2015 the international community, under UNESCO, adopted a set of 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). A key SDG is the global education agenda (SDG4 – Education 2030) which calls to “ensure inclusive and equitable quality education and promote lifelong learning opportunities for all”. Is open education the solution?
On 17 May 2017, Professor Tham Choy Yoong, Former Acting Deputy Vice Chancellor, Wawasan Open University discussed open education’s role in contributing to a changing society towards sustainable development.
Prof Tham began by discussing the characteristics of open education, including the flexibility and availability it offers to students in terms of geographical reach, time and learning materials. It also offers opportunities for those who do not possess the conventional entry qualification and encourages adult and lifelong learning by not having restriction on the age of the learners.
Hence, participants of open education are mainly those from the workforce looking to upgrade their skills and qualification in both the developed and developing countries. With automation resulting in the disappearance of many jobs, Prof Tham argued that open education can provide the solution to mitigate the social disruption caused by the job losses by teaching new skills.
He then discussed the Incheon Declaration, an international initiative to help achieve the Education 2030 agenda. The Declaration’s Education 2030 Framework of Action repeatedly advocates the use of open education in addressing the disruptive change brought about by the extensive and increasing use of advanced computerisation and automation. It has been described as the most effective and economical way to disseminate education to a large population in the developing world.
However, open education has a reputation for providing low quality education, though this is not universally the case. Also, reputable open education institutions are not accessible to many in the developing countries due to costs or other barriers. Prof Tham then suggested that quality of open education can be improved through strategic partnerships. Institutions can also allow students to learn via massive open online courses (MOOC) or learn from other notable institutions or industry partners.
Another challenge of open education is the low completion rate caused by students’ lack of motivation or the difficulty of juggling studies with their other commitments in life. The lack of internet access can also impede the widespread adoption of open education, especially in countries with underdeveloped telecommunications infrastructure. Teachers would then have to employ resources and ingenuity to keep their students motivated to learn. Employers of the students may also improve student retention by providing career or financial incentives when students make progress. They can also give support by providing internet access, time and space for students to attend classes.
The value of open education can better benefit the developing countries with the support of the developed countries. Singapore, according to Prof Tham, is in a particularly good position to play a crucial role in the educational development in Asia, including that of open education, due to its widespread use of English and being geographically located in the centre of the region.
The session ended with Prof Tham addressing the audience’s questions, as well as follow-up discussions on how open education may improve a student’s employability, the types of courses available through open education, and improving the perception of the quality of open education.