A group of people have released The Cape Town Open Education Declaration. The hope is that this Declaration will server as rallying point for the development of open educational resources similar way as the Budapest Open Access Initiative did for open access to research literature.
I see the Declaration, first of all, as a statement to improve educational equality in the world – actually, a certain kind of educational equality. So, this means that there are different kinds of “educational equalities”.
According to Swedish academic Torste Husén (1972) there are three different kinds of conceptions of equality of education: conservative, liberal and the new (it was new in Sweden in 1970’s). The Cape Town Open Education Declaration is pretty well driving the “new conception of equality of education”.
I have a table explaining the differences between the three conceptions of equality of educational opportunity.
The conceptions all build on different theories of intelligence; basically the questions is what is the origin of people’s intelligence. When conservatives claim that intelligence is inborn, inherited and unchangeable, people behind the “new conception” see intelligence as a result of cultural interaction and some inheritable capacity. But they also claim that intelligence is so culturally bias that it should not be used as a factor in selection in education. These principles lead to different kind of ideas on what are the bases of educational inequality. According to conservatives they are simply a cause of biological differences in individuals’ intelligence and abilities. When the liberals claim that inequality is a result of cultural deprivation and unfair social opportunities, the “new conception” sees that educational inequality is only one factor in a group of many factors causing inequality, unfair possibilities, poverty, and social problems. The political implications of these three naturally differs a lot from one to another and this way we may also see in them some connections to more general political ideologies.
So, what would the conservative do with learning resources? She, of course, would provide materials only for those who have the inborn ability to study and learn. Giving it for someone else would simply be a waste of resources. University libraries that are open only for faculty and students are a good example of this.
The liberal would claim that everyone should have access only to some limited amount of learning material because it would guarantee that nobody could study more than someone else. Equality of education should be protected by protecting students to study only what is necessary for them. Strict national curriculum is an example of this.
The “new” conception of equality of education emphasises access to education, learning materials, networks and communities where learning may take place. It provides for all educational resources on whatever topic in the world, and leaves the responsibility of making use of them for the people. Public libraries and free/open educational resources are good examples of these.
Equality of education should not mean identical opportunities. Equality of educational opportunities should mean that we give for all optimal opportunities to develop their personal interests. The more opportunities, the better.
Equality does not mean that all people should be treated the same way. Equality of opportunity means that we actually provide equal opportunity for unequal treatment so far as socially relevant differences are concerned. We should recognize the external barriers of the members of the lower social classes and support them to excel the obstacles.
I hope this is what The Cape Town Open Education Declaration is trying to do. I am going to sign it.