I was at a meeting to discuss OER where a very salient point was made. As the group tried to articulate a consensus position on the important principles of using OER, Glen Thomas, the Secretary of Education for California talked about an “equity agenda.” Most of us got into public education, he said, because we think that everyone should have access to knowledge and learning. OER is all about “ubiquitous access to all content” for all learners.
This was reminiscent to me of Jimmy Wales’ goal of giving “every single person on the planet … free access to the sum of all human knowledge.” How can anyone argue with the nobility of that aim?
This also brings to mind the UN’s Universal Declaration of Human Rights which states that everyone has the right to a free education.
Some may say that these goals are not new. Nearly since the birth of our nation, we have striven for educational equity and (arguably) have provided it through nearly universal public education, free (in some places) textbooks, etc.
So what has changed?
Two things, at least. First, technology. In today’s world, access to technology and, more specifically, the Internet is a vital resource and tool needed to be a well-educated citizen. To be without this access is to be profoundly disadvantaged. And clearly, we are a long way from equitable access to the Internet in both schools and homes.
Secondly, our learners have changed. They are increasingly diverse with widely varying prior experiences, native languages, reading levels, learning styles, interests, etc. Old one-size-fits-all models are no longer effective. For many students, methods like lecturing and tools like textbooks no longer provide access.
Let’s reconsider the equity agenda. One of the greatest things about America has been a commitment to education for all. We need an update on how to continue this tradition.