Halbe Zijlstra

Speech from Dutch State Secretary for Education Halbe Zijlstra

Halbe ZijlstraSpeaking notes for State Secretary Zijlstra, speech at the Open Educational Resources conference, Delft, 7 March 2012

Only the spoken word counts

It is an honour for me to be invited to speak to you here today at the very first international Open Education Week. This gathering in Delft has international significance. That is why this session is being streamed live online. Thus, people in other countries can view the proceedings as well.

Across the world, increasing numbers of people are realising how large the potential of Open Educational Resources is. We can accelerate its development by sharing experiences and learning from one another. For example, at gatherings such as this one here in Delft.

Open Educational Resources are meant for all levels of education, but today we have come here to talk about the possibilities it presents for Higher Education. It is expected that Higher Education will experience above-average growth in the coming years. The new crops of students come from the first generations of digital natives, as they are called. They have grown up in a digitalised society and are completely at home in it. They are always online and are open to the newest technologies and networks. It is a group that will be quick to embrace these new digital possibilities.

Today’s students view the use of technological innovations as normal – in fact they see them as essential. So, here among them, you have fertile ground in which to introduce these innovations. And it’s something that must be done, because government budgets are under pressure. By innovating, we can do more for less money. Particularly in times of spending cutbacks, we need innovations to continue to guarantee good education. By continuing to develop open digital material together, we bring about cooperation and an exchange of knowledge, thus improving quality.

Open Educational Resources have enormous potential. Not only with respect to the quality and diversity of the teaching materials, but also with respect to the accessibility and democratisation of education. This point is particularly important for developing countries that do not yet have access to sufficient educational tools. Technology makes it possible to distribute educational material widely and thus make good education accessible to everyone. Take the inspiring example at Stanford University, which recently saw 160,000 people from across the world log on for online lectures about Artificial Intelligence.

Open Educational Resources are increasingly going beyond the archetype of plain text published on the Internet. Combinations with other technological innovations have resulted in publications enriched with interesting visuals, interaction, infographics, tests, feedback and links to sources.

A beneficial side effect is that Open Educational Resources are forcing the regular education system to rethink things. Digital developments are raising questions that need to be answered, such as: ‘What educational service does an institution actually provide? Are we talking about content, lessons, supervision, examinations, the learning process? How do we learn and how do we teach? What is the role of a teacher?’ These are interesting questions that must first be answered before the quality of education can be improved.

This current Dutch Cabinet has underlined the importance of ICT and open educational resources for the development of creativity and innovative capacity in education. And if certain pre-conditions do not come about on their own, then we would like to provide the stimulus for them. The government has a responsibility to ensure that open digital teaching material is widely accessible, to boost new developments and to facilitate education. The Education Council pointed this out back in 2008.

But in the end, the field of education must do this on its own. The government will not be developing curriculum or prescribing what content is necessary. Nor will it dictate how the quality of the material should be guaranteed. These are tasks for educators. That is why the Ministry of Education, Culture and Science is encouraging the development of the Wikiwijs(Wikiwise) Programme, which was launched at the end of 2009 to increase the supply, the diversity and the use of Open Educational Resources.

This increases the freedom of choice and the ownership of teachers and institutions in the area of teaching materials. It also fits in with the following objectives:

  • creating a richer learning environment;
  • providing more made-to-measure resources and greater flexibility;
  • professionalising teachers en strengthening their position;
  • lifelong learning.

Wikiwijs enables teachers in the Netherlands – from primary to university education – to find, make and share open digital teaching material on a central platform. It provides a network, tips and information for getting things started. It provides, for example, answers to questions about copyrights, lesson plans or digital teaching methods. Wikiwijs improves the position of the teacher and supports his or her professionalisation. And that benefits the quality of the education provided!

With these innovations, the Netherlands is seen worldwide as a leader in this field and we should be proud of that. The active development of Open Educational Resources within all education sectors and our national approach are really unique. The Delft University of Technology and the Open University are pioneers in this field. As chairperson of the international OpenCourseWare consortium, Anka Mulder is an important champion in this area. And as the UNESCO chair holder, Fred Mulder is a beacon of knowledge and expertise. Added to this are the efforts of Surf, which last year launched the programme Open Educational Resources in order to develop this theme in Dutch Higher Education.

Many institutions want to start such initiatives for themselves; they are looking for examples to follow and for information. I am very happy about this. Wikiwijs is now also available to Higher Education. So let us continue to use and develop this platform together. The more content and users it has, the more successful this movement will be. Together, we can build up the knowledge, expertise and examples that are necessary for ‘mainstreaming Open Educational Resources’.

To conclude, I would like to thank everyone involved for their efforts to move Open Educational Resources forward. I wish you an instructive and inspiring conference and am looking towards the future with anticipation. I am very keen to see what fantastic initiatives will be launched – both here in the Netherlands and throughout the world.

Thank you for your attention.

Dutch version

TU Delft

EU Lifelong Learning Programme
with the support of the Lifelong Learning Programme of the European Union

Creative Commons License OpenCourseWare Europe website by OpenCourseWare Europe is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.