The real “haves” are they who can acquire freedom, self-confidence, and even riches without depriving others of them. They acquire all of these by developing and applying their potentialities. On the other hand, the real “have nots” are they who cannot have aught except by depriving others of it. They can feel free only by diminishing the freedom of others, self-confident by spreading fear and dependence among others, and rich by making others poor.

—Eric Hoffer, 1955

Village school under the trees in Northern Bahr el Ghaza, Sudan

In today’s world, where the cost of replicating digital “knowledge” is near zero, consider for example that:

  • In Sub-Saharan Africa, 60% of youth aged between 15 and 17 are not in school[1]
  • The Student Public Interest Research Groups (PIRGs) report that American students spend an average of US$900 per annum on the purchase of textbooks.[2] This is more than the average 2009 gross national income per capita (US$512) of the world’s low income countries. [3]

The challenge associated with the global demand for tertiary education is not a new phenomenon.

More than one-third of the world’s population is under 20. There are over 30 million people today qualified to enter a university who have no place to go. During the next decade, this 30 million will grow to 100 million. To meet this staggering demand, a major university needs to be created each week.

—Sir John Daniel, 1996.

The open web combined with open content licensing provides us with the technology to freely distribute learning materials in support of all national curricula. Moreover, at virtually no additional cost, we are able to manipulate and transform digital data for a variety of delivery technologies, including print for those learners who do not have access to the Internet.

Sharing knowledge freely

The sharing of knowledge is not a new phenomenon. In our daily lives, we regularly share knowledge freely, including:

  • when a parent intervenes in the upbringing of child;
  • when a teacher presents a lesson;
  • when a learner helps a friend to understand a challenging concept.

When we share knowledge, we can still use it for our own benefit. Knowledge grows with reuse. If we think about “open” knowledge as a system, it is sustainable and scalable. In the video, “Reflections on Digital Freedom”[4], Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu, former Chancellor of the University of the Western Cape in South Africa, reflects on the importance of the freedom to learn in education.

Digital freedom is an expression which encapsulates the spirit of collaboration now possible with the open web; in particular, the principles of sharing, remixing and leveraging the work of others for the benefit of society. Sadly, much of the world’s knowledge is locked behind restrictive copyright provisions – and much of this knowledge is inaccessible and unaffordable, particularly for the majority of citizens in the developing world. Moreover, these copyright provisions have not kept pace with advances in digital technology.


Video reflection

Watch the video recording of Desmond Tutu reflecting on the importance of freedom in education.

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  1. UNESCO Institute for Statistics. Education in Africa
  2. Allen, N. (September 2010). A Cover to Cover Solution: How Open Textbooks are the Path to Textbook Affordability. The Student PIRGs. p. 4.
  3. The World Bank, Data Catalog. (15 December 2010). Gross national income per capita 2009, Atlas method and PPP.
  4. An extract from the opening of the Digital Freedom Exposition, held in Cape Town, South Africa, April 2007.