26 When Social Inclusion Doesn’t Go Far Enough: Concerns for the Future of the OER Movement in the Global South

Cheryl Hodgkinson-Williams

Originally published on April 17, 2018

Following Nancy Fraser’s concept of social justice as “parity of participation” (2005, p. 73), OER can unwittingly be used in three social unjust ways, namely (1) economic injustice or maldistribution; (2) cultural inequality or misrecognition; (3) political misframing.

In relation to economic injustice or maldistribution, the findings of the ROER4D project suggest that educators and students in the Global South can be impeded from full participation by the lack of access to material resources such as uninterrupted power supply, functional technological infrastructure, affordable and stable connectivity and adequate digital literacy skills. These types of obstacles need to be addressed through a range of more anticipatory open practices by OER creators, but will ultimately need governments, donor agencies and corporates to provide more equitable and affordable access to students and educators.

With respect to cultural inequality or misrecognition, findings from the ROER4D project suggest that educators and students in the Global South can be deprived of participatory parity due to the current domination of Western oriented epistemic perspectives and hegemonic English-language OER unless the opportunity to create or, at least, localise and redistribute OER in preferred languages and from alternative epistemic stances, is grasped and recognised. Although the ROER4D project showed that students and educators were likely, if at all, to use existing OER “as is” and then store adapted OER on password protected learning management systems, local OER were being created in specific contexts.

Referring to the political dimension in the context of OER representation (e.g. geographical, urban/rural, gender) and decision-making power (e.g. institutional, national and global) are important to consider, lest “those who suffer it may become objects of charity or benevolence […] or non-persons with respect to justice” (Fraser, 2005, p. 77). The ROER4D findings allude to devaluation or what Fraser terms “misframing” where students and educators have few ways of challenging their position in institutional, national and international processes. The ROER4D project highlights the need for educators to have copyright over their work in order to licence their teaching materials so that they have the choice to share them as OER.

With all the good intentions of the OER movement, my concern is that unless economic, cultural and political dimensions are adequately addressed the value proposition of OER will not be fulfilled in the Global South.


Fraser, N. (2005). Reframing justice in a globalising world. New Left Review, 36, 69–88. Retrieved from https://newleftreview.org/II/36/nancy-fraser-reframing-justice-in-a-globalizing-world

About the Author

Emeritus Associate Professor Cheryl Ann Hodgkinson-Williams taught Online Learning Design, Advanced Research Design and Researching Higher Education courses to postgraduate students and supervises Masters and PhD students. Cheryl taught and supervised in the field of information communication technologies (ICTs) in education since 1994, first at the University of Pretoria, then at Rhodes University and then at the University of Cape Town. Cheryl was the Principal Investigator of the IDRC-funded Research in Open Educational Resources for Development (ROER4D) project which investigated the adoption and impact of the use of open educational resources in 21 countries in the Global South. She is an advisor on the Digital Open Textbooks for Development (DOT4D) project, the former Principal Investigator and current mentor of the Cases on Open Learning (COOL) project that is investigating the readiness towards open learning of TVET and HE institutions in South Africa. Cheryl is a former UNESCO Chair of Open Education and Social Justice and in November 2019 she was awarded the Open Education Consortium Leadership Award and was interviewed for Leaders and Legends of Online Learning podcast. Cheryl took early retirement at the end of January 2020, but is still active as a consulting researcher and an Open Education and Social Justice advocate.

Other works:

Hodgkinson-Williams, C.A. & Trotter, H. (2018). A social justice framework for understanding open educational resources and practices in the Global South, Journal of Learning for Development, 5(3), 204-224.

Hodgkinson-Williams, C.A. (2019). The Warp and Weft of Open Education and Social Justice. Keynote presentation at Open Education Global 2019, Milan, Italy, 26-28 November.



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