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Supporting the EFA and MDGs with Open Educational Resources

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Discussions > OER Economics for a billion children
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1444 days ago

One more point: Where computers + OERs cost less than printed textbooks, the cost for this education program is negative, and the Return on Investment is infinite. So the sooner we can create enough OERs, the better.

1456 days ago

A friend asked what the benefits would be.

Cost, assuming promised &75 XO-3 tablet computer and complete replacement of textbooks with OERs, including computers, electricity, Internet, teacher training, and other miscellaneous direct costs come to roughly $25 billion annually for a billion children at a time (all of them), to be paid for by middle-level and developed countries themselves, and initially by aid agencies for the poorest countries, to prime the pump. Ramping up at about 100% annually for nine or ten years (multiple of 500, from 2 million deployed so far to a billion children, or 2^9), we would want about $50 million to start in the first year, doubling each year to saturation. Other plans are possible, of course, depending on political will.

Benefit, financial, hundreds of trillions of dollars in annual economic activity when we eliminate poverty.

Benefit, other, elimination of much oppression, corruption, and possibly war.

The financial results can be estimated by taking the average production per person in developed countries, multiplying by 7 billion, and subtracting current global production.


Global production is estimated at $74 trillion, or $7,178 per person, with about 30% unemployment and underemployment. GDP per capita in Europe in 2009 is estimated at $27,250. Thus the global economy at full parity with the developed countries comes to more than $280 trillion, for total growth of about $200 trillion, ignoring inflation and other relatively minor effects, and also the major effect of further growth in technologically advanced countries.

Wayne Mackintosh
1477 days ago


Agreed accreditation must be tackled early in the piece. I would go as far as saying that accredition is one of the foundation stones for building a sustainable OER ecosystem.

For reason, the OER university concept is working with institutions who have accredition within their natioinal jurisdictions -- a paralel learning universe which co-exists with the traditional systemy. Organisations who are participating institutions must agree to award credit for the courses based solely on OER and they MUST be accredited insitutions in their own countries. 

There are many areas which need attention (which we are classfying as activities within the logic model.) and we are now looking for champions who will help co-ordinate each initiative and champions for leading the planning and development of the individual activities. 

We're now revieiwing and finalising the high-level logic model in preparation for the next tier of planning the detail of individaul initiatives and activities. Clearly there needs to be an activity focused on the national qualification authories under the Open credentialling initiative to help plan suitable solutions for articulation of courses among participating institutions.









Pheo Martin PhD
1477 days ago

Hmmmm.  I do not believe the question is if OERs must be digital -- of course they can be printed.  The question of educating a billion students is what this focus is.  We must provide OER access through digital means if we are going to equalize education for all.  All the projects related to "Permeating IT to the Base of the Pyramid" show that others are handling much of the IT part of making OER U and educating a billion students possible.  (Thanks John for those links.)

Thanks Paul for your comments about starting early with university affliations and accreditation.  What makes the OER U significant is having this piece in place.   We need to be working in conjunction with them as much as possible so that we do not have to revise and redo later. *~* Pheo

Paul West
1479 days ago


One of the main reasons OER have been widely accepted as needing to be digitized is so that they can be transported and replicated at virtually no cost. This certainly does not mean that the resource has to be used digitally at the point of use. If the learner needs a resource that is, for example, printed, built, or formed from a block of stone, then that is what must be created to support the learner. The files to print, plans to build, or specifications to carve the block of stone can still be replicated indefinitely via the internet, up to the point of physical creation closest to the learner. 

If we follow a principle like this, we can replicate resources ‘at the Internet level’ virtually free and move the  creation of the physical resource to the local business community. This still gets the resource in it digitized form as close as possible to the learner, minimizing transport costs, while providing additional business opportunities for the local printing or newspaper company (to print), the small business (that assembles the required model) or the artisan or company (that carves the stone).

The idea of educating the next billion children could only be improved by including adults as well! It would be wonderful to get past the barriers of only being able to offer education when all the factors are perfect (appropriate building, qualified teachers, equipment, resources, traditional assessment systems, etc.). We could move to a model that works under the circumstances where people live and are unable to enter the formal system for some reason (for example, poverty). A few institutions have started operating to try to overcome these barriers, just to name a few, WikiEducator, Khan Academy and UoPeople. There are also NGOs around the world working in this area but we hear very little about them.  No one organization is going to be able to do this alone (1 billion children), but with a range of online institutions and F2F organisations collaborating, it really does become a possibility. One challenge is, can the OER community collaborate without one organization trying to dominate all others?

The topic of registration and accreditation of institutions and qualifications becomes a real issue to be tackled early in the project. These processes generally rest with governments and so the institutions that do the assessment and issue qualifications will need to find ways to gain accreditation in at least one country if this project is to gain real traction and not be ‘shot down’. This is certainly not insurmountable but essential for the movement to not be seen as a group of bogus institutions. 

Could this forum establish a few groups to focus on the different areas that need attention? The technical issues have received attention for years; I worry that good initiatives can be stifled through entrenched systems not fully understanding or recognizing the value of new projects. We need to find ways to bring along the traditional systems because the people who receive education through new/OER systems will still have to coexist in a world where institutional name brands and elitist education rule.

Would each person in this forum agree to take a course through this new institution/network and publicize that to show its level of credibility? 

Wayne Mackintosh
1479 days ago

Hi Steve,

I agree - -digital should not be a requirement to qualify as OER, but should be recommended. Storing OER digitally with technologies to automate reproduction for multiple delivery formats would have greater impact as long as they use open editable file formats. So for example, this would enable reuse in the following contexts:

1) Learner with netbook and no connection to the internet : Uses the html offline version in the browser. May connect with local learners on the mesh network.

2) Learner with no access to the internet without a netbook: Uses the customised print version downloaded at Internet Cafe, reproduced and sold locally.

Back in 2006, I worked on a usecase scenario for building wiki ==> print capability. In the end we used slightly different technologies, however the WikiEducator project collaborated with the Wikimedia foundation to develop wiki ==> print technology.

In WikiEducator -- it is possible to

1) Generate a customised print version

2) Download the same collectioin as an odt file -- which means a teacher could localise content offline using their word processor

3) Can share their adapted version back to the community using the document conversion facility on WikiEducator

4) Prototype to package a collection as an IMS content cartridge (for importing into the local LMS)

5) Using WikiEducators <iframe> feature to embed content in the LMS or any website.

6) Experimenting with ePub exports for mobile devices.

So having OER in open digital formats facilitates multiple reuse scenarios. I do agree with your point on the importance of print resources for OER -- the majority of the plannet does not have connectivity yet.


Pheo Martin PhD
1479 days ago

Steve, I place OERs in digital forms for several reasons

  • Costs of printing, and especially distribution, are avoided. 
  • Translation into multiple languages is easy.
  • If we push for access instead of putting the money in printed materials, the students can gain access to all that other digitalized knowledge, instead of being limited to whatever we can distribute in print form.
  • The cost to the environment is essentially zero after hardware. 
  • Collaborative forms of learning can occur through digital learning - this can be far more engaging, as well as uniting learners from around the world.
  • Educators can revise, refine, add to, delete, etc. digital learning materials quickly and easily.  Printed materials do not provide this.

With the money available, I hope we will push forward into the digital forms of learning.  More and more of our daily and employment lives uses digital communication systems.  By educating our billion students in this mode we are also preparing them for what may be expected of them in their personal and employment lives.

These are compelling reasons in themselves.  Our culture capital of ensuring every child in the world has the same access as every other child is HUGE.  I have found no other way better than digital learning to provide this.  I suppose my greatest educational value is equal educational opportunities for all.  I could not live with myself to have some learners only get printed materials while others get the vast knowledge and social media of online/mobile learning.  

The good news in all of this is that we have people who are already working on the math!

Pheo :)

Steve Foerster
1479 days ago

Interesting discussion!  Two comments.

1. I've noticed that people seem to expect that OERs will be distributed digitally.  But OERs are defined solely by being unencumbered by copyright.  There's no reason that they couldn't be distributed as inexpensive printed materials, e.g., on newsprint, so that they can reach those who do not yet have access to technology.

2. I'm working on a paper on valuation of OERs.  It uses a practical model for estimating the value of an OER based on the Fischer-Margrabe options model.  I'll put it up on SSRN once it's done.


Pheo Martin PhD
1479 days ago

I am horrible at math and statistics, but discounting access and hardware, there are hundreds to thousands of people working to make that cost free through OERs and OCWs.  That part of the math I can do; and the bottom line is the tremendous generosity and giving by these educators.

With Gratitude and Admiration, Pheo :)

Maria Droujkova
1480 days ago

Abel, thank you for doing this. While we have no way of figuring out factors at this point, the categories will be useful to inform data collection as OERu becomes operational.

  • Individual attention factor (divide the cost by 3). Homeschoolers spend about 1/3 of time on formal studies compared to school students. Bloom's 2 sigma problem shows significant gains from individual attention (two standard deviation). Peer support research and informal study group research, such as "Each one teach ten" Ravishankar mentioned, or the sympathetic observer part of "Hole in the wall" project (http://www.hole-in-the-wall.com), also show strong effects. A system that distributes individual attention to every participant, aggregating it from mentors, peers and AIs, will be more efficient.
  • Citizen science crowdsource factor (divide the cost by 100). There is a lot of cognitive surplus in education and pedagogy, as most people have some ideas on how they learned. In particular, consider populations such as retirees, stay-at-home educated parents, and professionals in fields related to given subject areas. For example, Sal Khan, an engineer and economist, has created the number one video site for math (http://www.khanacademy.org). People from these populations frequently approach my math communities with offers of help. If community support, training, and aggregation is in place, they can be contributing a unit or two in their spare time, or improving other materials. Consider Galaxy Zoo, where fifty thousand amateur astronomers are working with just a few professionals, making significant discoveries - most recently, a new type of galaxies (http://www.galaxyzoo.org).
  • Work-study factor (divide the cost by 2). Designing OERs is an obvious learning task for future teachers. I argue it should become an integral part of every course in every subject. There are tremendous learning benefits. Designing study materials raises meta-cognition (understanding of your own thinking and learning), makes students look at connections and logical sequences among subject ideas and helps with self-management of time and tasks.
  • Mesh and sharing factor (divide the cost by 3). Sharing infrastructure, software support, social media platforms, administration can significantly lower expenses. References: The Mesh (http://meshing.it/book); http://shareable.net

I would like to design metrics that allow to capture and measure these factors, or find out other categories, during implementation of OERu.

With these coefficients, the total comes to about 340 million.

Ravishankar Gundlapalli
1480 days ago

Excellent - Educating the next 1 billion students can be the goal of OERU. We can breakdown the costs into different components:

  1. Creation of content (online crowd-sourcing and tapping into existing resources)
  2. Availability of content (online initiatives like OERU)
  3. Delivery of content (by teachers, local volunteers)
  4. Certification (to the students who were delivered the content e.g. diplomas)
I am thinking that the costs for 1 and 2 will be much smaller than the costs for 3 and 4. 

One of my mentors Prof. Sudershen Acharya in India is leading a national campaign called Lead India 2020, which was originally conceived by Fmr President of India Dr. Abdul Kalam. One of the techniques they use is 'Each one teach 10'. With such a simple methodology, they are able to multiply their efforts and educate hundreds of thousands of people. What if we adopted a similar idea to reach and teach our Billion?

Wayne Mackintosh
1480 days ago

Hi Abel,

This is a fascinating topic -- and I must compliment you on a bold and committed attempt to put a dollor figure on the challenge!

In addition to calculating direct costs of educational provision, I also think its useful to think about the challenge in creative ways.

For better or worse ;-) -- in my first live I trained as an accountant. In business decision-making regarding future investment there is a strong school of thought which says sunk-costs should not be taken into account because only future costs are relevant to an investment decision. (Sunk costs have already been incurred and cannot be recovered.)

So for example:

  1. The cost of exsiting materials developed by teachers and educators who are paid by government has already been incured. What is the future cost to governments requiring release of existing materials where they hold intellectual property rights under open content licenses?  The point here is that we do not necessarily need new money to increase the inventory of OER.
  2. If every teacher, lecturer or trainer in the world who is paid by government money (our taxpayer dollars) were required to allocate one day a year to developing an OER teaching resource -- how long would it take before we had digital OERs in support of all national curricula in the world?

I accept that this is an oversimplification -- but it does illustrate the immediate effeciency gains to widening access to knowledge.  Depending on delivery sytems, I would estimate that between 15 - 25% of education budget on the planet is invested in closed teaching resources. This is sunk cost -- a cheap solution that will go a long way is simply to change the license.

mmm -- intersting times.



Abel Caine
1480 days ago

Hi Edward, Maria, all

I've been intrigued by Edward's challenge of calcaulating: the cost of educating 1 billion children using OERs.

I'm no economist but inspired by Maria's calculations on why we need so many algebra courses, I thougth I'd give a go at constructing the cost-benefit equation.

Let's test the power of the UNESCO OER Community and see if we can crowd-source a refined equation.



1. Each of the (US billion) 1,000,000,000 students requires 12 years of primary and secondary education and 4 years for a typical undergraduate degree: 16 years;
2. Each student enrols in about 6 curricular and 2 extra-curricular taught subjects per year: 8 subjects x 16 years = 128
3. The OER for each of those subjects probably exists(?) but there will need to be a search and evaluation - negative factor 1.2
4. The OERs will need to be transformed for the different student's needs including translation, localization (local names, examples), and customization (people with disabilities) - native factor 1.2
5. Teachers will need to be trained in how to effectively use and create OERs - negative factor 1.2
6. For projects like this there will always be wastage, corruption, and delays - negative factor 1.2
7. However, in year 1, students and institutions save significantly on textbooks + factor 1.2
8. Teachers with high motivation becaome better teachers with OER and teachers without qualitifcations will be able to obtain formal qualifications studying OERs + factor 1.2
9. Teachers and students continually contribute to the OERs significantly increasing quality. These benefits are cumulative + factor 1.2


1,000,000,000 students
x 128 subjects
x $1.20 for search, evaluation, selection
x $1.20 OER transformation
x $1.20 teacher training
x $1.20 wastage


1,000,000,000 students
x -128 x $50 less textbooks
x -$1.20 improvement in teaching and number of teachers
x -($1.20 quality improvement in materials ^ 10 cumulative years) = $6.12


1481 days ago

Thank you all for your comments. You have given me a number of topics to investigate further and to write about.

Pheo, you might like to look at my Unicode Conference paper, Obliterating the Digital Divide, described at http://unicode.org/iuc/iuc24/a345.html . I can send you a PDF.

Pheo Martin PhD
1481 days ago

thank you Mokurai for such an insightful discussion.  For me, I keep coming to the starting point of the digital divide.  Have we got global digital access that is free? 

The world community must come together to bring about free mobile access. 

Second to this is the world community coming together to provide free hardware to every child. 

Finally, there are and will be places in the world that leaders prefer to keep people in ignorance.  The world wide community has to come to together to declare education is a right of all people.

Without these access and hardware OERs are tremendously limited.  Without national support access and hardware may not be allowed.

As we work with these, we can be working with Vivek's and Valerie's concerns.  We will probably work with a mix of a 'Google' search and a 'library' organization that will all efficient access to both OERs and OCWs. 

There is an incredible spirit to take on the challenges - and challenges there are -- so I know these problems and issues will be resolved.   Pheo :)

Valerie Taylor
1481 days ago

Another major challenge is helping learners and educators sort through the vast number of OERs about a subject to pick the "best" most appropriate OERs for their use. There are already so many that the task of selecting from existing OERs can overwhelming. It is  simpler to create new ones rather than use existing OERs. This has to be addressed as well.

1481 days ago

Hi everyone,

I believe education is not a football match where the number of goals matter. I mean number of people getting education (in some sense the access ratio) is not the only important thing we need to concentrate upon. Quality matters a lot. Standardization is a must. Benchmarks need to be developed before we flood the learners with OERs. We have to ensure that there is some standardization so that low quality or deliberate misinformation by interested parties should be avoided. More important than the economics of OER in terms of accessability and cost of access is probably the cost benifit analysis from the point of view of different stake holders. Resources that cost a bit and are more rewarding will be preffered over free but low reward.

Another point that is being raised internationally about OER is multiplicity of OER and futility of having multiplicity in some subjects. I feel even if viewed as a waste, multiplicity ensures prevention of danger of indoctrination and intellectual freedom– for example in economics current textbooks prescribe a particular type of policy prescriptions. This has an built in danger.

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There are more concerns. Remarks regarding local situation is very important.


Wayne Mackintosh
1483 days ago

Hi Mokurai,

I agree with the thrust of your conjectures -- in particular the need for evolving pedagogies to harnes the real potential of Netbook computers + OER on a universal scale.

I think the notion for developing a global white paper through collaborative development is an excellent one. Something I hope this group will pursue.




1483 days ago

Netbook computers + OER now cost less than printed textbooks almost everywhere in the world. The exceptions are countries that cannot afford to print adequate textbooks for their schools, or even to build and staff schools.

These facts require us to think in two different ways about the global economics of OER for our nearly one billion children. On one side, the side of prosperity, advanced technology, and so on, switching to OER would be a no-brainer if there were no other costs involved. On this side, we have to think of the costs of training and retraining teachers, of developing a sufficient set of OER materials for every topic in every subject, K-12 and beyond, of installing the broadband and electricity infrastructure for hundreds or thousands of computers per school, and other requisites, and take politics into consideration.

On the other side, we have to think about how to provide aid to prime the pump, and how to switch to an investment model as soon as possible, given the prospect of a fully-educated populace getting jobs, starting businesses, and paying taxes. How much aid is required to get started? For how long? Again, what about teacher training and infrastructure? What is the state of politics in these countries? What about international politics?

The other major strand of this investigation is to work out the consequences, already mentioned above in part, of universal education. It has been proposed that this alone could end poverty. Well, not entirely alone. We must examine the economies of the countries concerned, their legal frameworks, their business climates, the levels of corruption and mismanagement that many suffer from. This strand thus turns out to be a heavy cable composed of many finer strands.

I cannot lay out each of these strands in this opening message. I invite those who know about one or another, or even about more than one, to open discussions in their areas of expertise. When we know better what it is that we know about all of these, we can draw up a summary, a global White Paper on these issues. What we know includes the composition of a long list of unanswered questions, for many of which we can propose research programs and discuss funding and other methods of supporting our work.

Right now it is my conjecture

* that we can in fact eliminate dire poverty and create widespread prosperity

* that this will lead to achievement of all of the UN's Millennium Goals, though not on the hoped-for schedule

* that we can eliminate those forms of oppression based on the helplessness of the direly poor

* that education will lead to a fairly rapid growth in civil society institutions and a comparable reduction in corruption and incompetence

* that all of this will radically change the conversation about global economic and political issues

* that a billion educated children and any of us who are willing can then tackle the remaining hard problems.