*Economic and Political Weekly: Widening Access to Educational Resources*


By launching the National Repository of Open Educational Resources (NROER)
portal-a free online repository of National Council of Educational Research
and Training (NCERT) courseware-the government has taken a significant step
towards widening and improving access to learning resources and has
provided a fillip to the movement for free and open knowledge in the

 Rohini Lakshane (rohini.laksh...@gmail.com) is a freelance technology
journalist and Wikimedian based in Mumbai.

  Imagine a student learning a science experiment at school and
supplementing her knowledge by watching a programme on the subject aired on
Doordarshan many years ago. Or learning a difficult concept in geometry by
using interactive software free of cost. Or a teacher adapting a useful
lesson from a curriculum taught in a different language elsewhere in the
country. All this and more is now possible, after the National Repository
of Open Educational Resources (NROER) <http://nroer.in/home/>, a free
online repository of National Council of Educational Research and Training
(NCERT) courseware, was launched in August 2013, by the Ministry of Human
Resource Development. The launch of the portal, which houses open-licensed
school textbooks and other educational content developed and published by
the government-funded NCERT, comes as a big breakthrough for the movement
for free and open knowledge in the country; knowledge that can be accessed,
applied, and shared freely.
*What Does the Open License Mean?*
All the NCERT course books for students from class 1 to 12 for all subjects
have been available for free
though under copyright restrictions, for many years. However, copyright
meant that students, self learners, or teachers could not legally modify,
reuse, or redistribute the books without written permission from the NCERT.
About 30 textbooks of class 9 and 10 put together are now accessible on the
NROER under a Creative Commons-Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 License
(CC-BY-SA) <http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/>.
The Creative Commons license is a legal tool which enables copyright owners
to manage their rights over their works. The CC-BY-SA license enables the
creators of educational content to reuse, modify, build upon, or
redistribute with attribution the vast collection of text files, audio
files, videos, images, interactive applications and documents uploaded to
the NROER. In case the content is tweaked, the same license will apply to
the new work, setting up endless possibilities for NCERT courses to be
modified and re-modified till they become an inextricable part of the
expansive digital commons. The content could be used in classroom
presentations, blogs, or books, be harvested for use on other open
education resource (OER) projects such as WikiEducator and repositories
such as *Wikipedia* or its sister projects. Licensing knowledge resources
is a way of bringing knowledge to those who find accessing it either
difficult or impossible.
Those who wish to collaboratively create new courses, start their own
courses, or donate the open educational resources they create can upload
them to the repository. Those who remix or adapt the NCERT content can give
back to the community by posting the new work on the NROER.
Students and self learners can now freely access the courseware, including
some finely scripted and directed audio and video programmes and appealing
interactive content, which would aid their learning. Some of the videos are
distance learning programmes created by the NCERT and previously aired on
Initially, the CC-BY-SA-NC<http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-sa/3.0/>-a
license with a clause to disallow commercial use of the content- was
going to be appended to the NROER. This would have ruled out the use of the
content, in say, a paid app, a paid online tutorial or a paid course. After
much lobbying by the *Wikimedia Chapter (India)*, a non-profit organisation
that promotes Wikimedia projects, and other proponents of open knowledge,
the CC-BY-SA license was adopted instead. The move was in keeping with the 2012
Paris Open Educational Resources (OER)
the UNESCO, which recommends that governments freely license
resources developed with public funds "to maximise the impact of the
investment". As the NCERT is an autonomous government body, much of the
lobbying was driven by the belief that knowledge, research and information
funded with public money should be freely accessible to the public.
*The Platform*
The Homi Bhabha Centre for Science Education built the NROER website over a
period of six months on the open source Gnowsys-Studio kernel. Simply put,
the website is powered by a customised semantic network. All the content
has been broken down into small web pages. The user interface allows the
content to be searched, edited, rated, modified, described and commented
on. The website has the potential to build a community around the content
and to rope in more people to contribute to it.

*The Road Ahead *
The portal needs to iron out a few creases to fully achieve its purpose of
enabling access to education for all. Open access to knowledge and
information is linked to the use of open source software, the
implementation of open standards and the licensing of open content. Usually
the content on open education portals such as the NROER and Institute of
Distance and Open Learning (IDOL), University of Mumbai is present in
proprietary file formats (for example, docx). To ensure flexibility across
platforms, it is crucial that all content is posted using open standards.
Only 30 out of the 334 NCERT textbooks have been uploaded to the NROER,
since work on the website started six months ago. The rest are expected to
be uploaded over the next four and half years along with graphs, maps,
photos, graphics, diagrams and audio-visual material.
As of now, the textbooks are available in Hindi, English, and Urdu.
Hopefully over time . textbooks and course materials in different regional
languages would be uploaded. The NROER website should display a consent
form for contributors so that they do not unknowingly upload copyrighted
content. Also, they would be made aware that they are licensing away the
content they put up. Overall, the user interface needs some improvement for
better usability.
Numerous universities and institutions in India are working towards the
creation and diffusion of open education resources -from crafting and
digitising content to building quality assurance frameworks. The NROER is
the first open educational resources portal to be launched by the
government under the CC-BY-SA license. The rest are under either the
CC-BY-SA-NC license (Project Oscar, National Program for Technology
Enhanced Learning) or copyright (eGyankosh, IDOL). The NROER may set the
ball rolling for other entities in India to throw open their repositories
of precious knowledge and impart momentum to the country's open knowledge

Tinu Cherian

Important Note : Non-commercial reproduction for informative purposes only.
The publisher ( EPW ) of the above news article owns the copyrights of the
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