Braving OER battles in Brazil

abed
Association for Distance Education in Brazil

This is the eighth and final post in a blog series based on the the TOETOE International project with the University of Oxford, the UK Higher Education Academy (HEA) and the Joint Information Systems Committee (JISC). I have also made this post in the Open Educational Practices (OEP) series available as a .pdf on Slideshare.

São Paulo is what is known as an alpha world city, an important node within the global economy. From all accounts it is also the hub of Open Educational Resources (OER) in Brazil. In February 2013, I gave a workshop presentation organized by the Brazilian Association of Distance Education (ABED), which was simultaneously translated from English into Portuguese.

Brazilian Association of Distance Education (ABED)

ABED is a not-for-profit learned society that promotes the dissemination of flexible, open and distance education; founded in 1995 it currently has around 3,000 members, both individual and institutional.  On their website, there is a designated ‘referatory’ where you will find a listing of some 30 repositories of OER in the Portuguese language, serving a wide range of educational levels, from K-12 to continuing education. “Yet, for a country as large as Brazil (population almost 200 million) and the language group Brazil belongs to (250 million), we are terribly far behind in the area of OER”. – Fredric Litto, Chairman of ABED.

“ABED fulfils its mission by contributing as a national forum for discussion and presentation of studies and research related to Brazil. Obtaining, organising and disseminating quantitative information and presenting qualitative data analyses, in reference to the direction of education and distance learning, comprises the technical interests of ABED in providing a compass that indicates where we are in the practice of this teaching modality, allowing a glimpse of some of its trends for the future. Furthermore, by making available the quantitative data gathered, other researchers and people interested in distance learning have the opportunity to provide their own analyses and inferences.” (ABED, 2012).

In a meeting with Renato Bulcao and Bruna Medeiros at the ABED headquarters, we went over the founding principles of their work for promoting and advancing open and distance education in Brazil, along with a discussion on the potential development of OER in English and Portuguese with the TOETOE and FLAX projects:

Alannah: And, so ABED is a government-funded initiative?

Renato: No, it’s a private academic association. One of the few in Brazil because we don’t have this kind of association all over the place.

Bruna: Right. It’s like you know, we have profit but we’re not a commercial body, so you know, there’s no money around. We get some money from our affiliated associate members but it doesn’t come to us. We try to help. Distance education in Brazil is like, how can I say it? [Talks in Portuguese to Renato] Yeah, like old fashioned. So, we’re trying to progress everything.

Alannah: So, you’re an umbrella organization trying to communicate everything  related to open and distance education? Because when I looked for you, I found you with…

Bruna: The OCW, right?

Alannah: Right, the OCW. On their website, it said you were the hub of OER in Brazil and I was so glad when you wrote back.

Renato: It’s true, we are the hub in Brazil, at least for the next five years.

Alannah: You must be very busy.

Bruna: Yeah, we usually have conferences three times a year. But this year we’re going to have two with one on the virtual learner in June. It’s really nice because we’ve had policy related ones before.

Renato: Tell us please about today.

Bruna: OK, about the workshop, I set up everything. We invited all the teachers, professionals, students who would be interested in learning about OER. I didn’t direct this ony at English teachers, so it’s just like, you know, broardly appealing for everyone. I even opened it up for Italian institutions..

Alannah: Oh, good. The software is flexible but it’s just that we’ve built collections in English. There’s no reason why we can’t build resource collections in other languages as well. If anyone wants to build open language collections in Portuguese that would be wonderful. It’s just that English collections are the ones that we have prepared with the Oxford OER but the software is multilingual so it would be great if we could get some Brazilian OER specialists building Portuguese collections and not just collections in English.

Bruna: Oh, that’s nice. We’ll have simultaneous translation today from English to Portuguese and Portuguese to English, so you know it’ll be fine.

Social Services for Industry (SESI – Serviço Social da Indústria)

Mara Ewbank, a representative from the Brazilian Social Services for Industry (SESI – Serviço Social da Indústria in Portuguese) was in attendance at my workshop and we have stayed in contact with plans for building English and possibly Portuguese collections based on their middle and high school curricula with the FLAX OSS for developing OER collections that would serve around 18,000 students in10 different municipalities across the São Paulo region. SESI is a private not-for-profit institution that operates throughout Brazil’s 26 states including the Federal District (Distrito Federal); initially set up in July 1946 by president Eurico Gaspar Dutra with the aim of “promoting social welfare, cultural development and improving the lives of workers and their families and the communities they live in.” This was in response to the introduction of new labour laws that had been established by Getúlio Vargas, who preceded Dutra and created the Consolidation of Labor Laws (CLT – Consolidação das Leis do Trabalho in Portuguese). (Wikipedia, 2013).

Recursos Educacionais Abertos (REA)

The Recursos Educacionais Abertos (REA, which translates to Open Educational Resources), one of the most active OER bodies in Brazil, was also in attendance at my presentation and they have blogged about the event on their website.  To give an indication of just how important Brazil’s richest state is to OER, during my stay in Brazil it was announced that governor Geraldo Alckmin of  São Paulo had vetoed in its entirety the proposed public policy OER bill (PL 989/2011) that had been passed by all committees of the São Paulo Legislative Chamber back in December 2012. The reason given for vetoing the bill was a perceived conflict of interest between the Executive and Legislative branches of government. This has been viewed as an extreme blow to OER efforts in São Paulo for the realisation of OER for democratising education in Brazil. A decree to overturn the decision is being sought by the Brazilian OER community, headed by the REA:

We are conscious that we have lost a battle, but we are sure we have not lost the war. We will succeed in developing a more innovative and inclusionary education system, inspired by the developments of the information society. We have mobilized folks around Brazil, meetings are happening, and for now the press is on our side. In practical terms, our next steps are to partner and pressure with the Governor to enact the Bill in the form of a Decree.” (Rossini, Gonsales and Sebriam, 2013). 

Resources

Association for Distance Learning in Brazil (ABED). (2012). Analytic Report of Distance Learning in Brazil. Sao Paulo: Pearson.

Rossini, C., Gonsales, P. and Sebriam, D., 2013. São Paulo State Governor Vetoes Open Educational Resources Bill. Infojustice.org: American University Washington College of Law. Translated by Carolina Rossini. Retrieved from http://infojustice.org/archives/28646

Wikipedia. (2013). Social Services for Industry. Retrieved from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/SENAI#Social_Services_for_Industry

 

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