In 2012, Poland launched the “Digital School” program, an initiative to expand the use of information and communications technology (ICT) in K-12 schools. This program includes an OER component that is the first of its kind: a 3-year-long project to create a set of 18 core curriculum e-textbooks for K-12 schooling in Poland, available under a Creative Commons Attribution license.
(We wrote previously about the open textbooks program in 2012 – see the blog post. For more information on OER developments in Poland, see “Open Educational Resources in Poland: Challenges and Opportunities”, a report by Karolina Grodecka and Kamil Śliwowski for UNESCO).
About the “Digital School” program
In April 2012, the Council of Ministers approved the governmental “Digital School” program, aimed at developing ICT skills of teachers and students in the K-12 school system (decree of the Council of Ministers, in Polish). The emphasis on skills was deliberate – previous ICT programs were overly focused on providing equipment, and lack of necessary training is commonly seen as their failure. The new program treats ICT in schools as a system that includes skills (of both teachers and students), equipment, and digital educational resources.
The pilot stage of the “Digital school” initiative, running between 2012-2015, consists of four components:
- e-teacher: preparing teachers for teaching, communicating with students and parents, and documenting the educational process using ICT;
- e-textbook: producing public digital educational resources, also ensuring access to free and open e-textbooks;
- e-school: providing schools with the necessary infrastructure, especially modern didactic tools; and
- e-student: providing students, especially those at risk of digital exclusion, with access to modern didactic tools.
The national Center for Development of Education (Ośrodek Rozwoju Edukacji – ORE) is charge of coordinating the program and leading work on some of its components. The program is overseen by the Ministry of National Education (MEN).
If the pilot is successful, the program will be extended to cover the whole K-12 educational system in Poland. Funds for such extension are currently being appropriated as part of the planning phase of the 2014-2020 European funding programs for Poland.
The e-textbooks program is part of the pilot and will be implemented directly by ORE. ORE will oversee the work four institutional partners, which will create the resources, and one technology partner.
The e-textbook program has a budget of 45 million Polish złoty (approximately 11 million Euro or 13 million USD), making it the first OER project of such scale in Poland. An earlier initiative, “Włącz Polskę” (“Turn Poland on”), provided OER on a smaller scale solely for Polish schools abroad.
The program will fund the creation of 18 textbooks, covering the core curriculum for K-12 education in Poland. The Ministry envisions e-textbooks as a set of simple digital content that can be used on any computer or mobile device. A dedicated technology platform is being created to publish the textbooks.
Additional 11 million złoty are allocated to the production of 2500 supplemental educational resources – mainly videos and other multimedia. These will be published under a free license on the Scholaris portal – the national educational resources repository created in 2005 and administered by ORE. The portal underwent a major redesign in 2013, when it also started adding OER content to its collection. Scholaris has a separate budget for content creation, which is larger than the budget for resources other than textbooks in the “Digital School” program. Currently Scholaris is partially open, with one thousand out of 26 thousand items made available under a Creative Commons license.
Key Impact – open standard for educational content
The “Digital School” program establishes strong open standards for educational resources funded within its scope, including the e-textbooks. The standards cover licensing, technical and accessibility issues:
- all content will be available under the Creative Commons Attribution license (or another comparable free license) – one that allows use of resources and their derivatives without fees, in an unlimited, nonexclusive manner;
- all content will be available in at least one open format (with full specification available without technical and legal limitations) – for example, web content will be available as HTML5 documents;
- all content that is accessed online will be made available in accordance with the current W3C Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG).
These standards adhere to the licensing guidelines of the Hewlett OER declaration and go beyond the minimal standard set by the UNESCO Paris Declaration on OER. As such, this program can be exemplary for other public OER initiatives.
The project will further ensure openness by using a dedicated technology platform based on the Connexions software. The platform will use HTML5 as the content publication standard. According to the program specifications, the platform must meet the following requirements:
- a multi-platform approach: support for diverse applications and users;
- flexibility: various modes of work among users (on- and offline);
- modularity: the possibility to generate various versions of the e-textbook and giving access to different functions;
- security: selection and continuous diagnosis of the infrastructure, security, technology and the process of production, control and integration of the software; and
- scalability: for a growing number of users as well as available digital resources and educational services.
Despite two years of consultations and negotiations prior to the program’s launch, the publishers boycotted the program immediately. Throughout 2012, the publishing industry staged massive criticism for the program in the press. When the Ministry of Education decided to contract public universities to produce textbooks (in mid-2012), representatives of the publishers threatened these universities with legal consequences. According to the publishers, producing open textbooks would be an act of unfair competition, but in our opinion, this was an attempt to intimidate the institutions and cause a chilling effect that had no legal basis. In 2013, critical media coverage and opinion pieces by publishers’ representatives continued to appear in the media.
Within the first six months of the program’s launch, multiple critical statements about the program were published in the media, mainly by representatives of the publishing industry. A number of the most prominent publishers formed the Porozumienie Nowoczesna Edukacja (Contemporary Education Alliance), which opposed Digital School through a communications campaign. Personal accusations were also made against people involved in the program, directed at the deputy Minister of Education and the coordinator of the e-textbook component, among others.
At the beginning of June 2012, Polish publishers, supported by the Federation of European Publishers (FEP) and the International Publishers Association (IPA) sent a letter of complaint to José Manuel Barroso, the President of the European Commission. In the letter, they protested against introducing public e-textbooks into the Polish education system through the Digital School program. The publishers accused the Ministry of National Education of violating the rules of fair competition and blamed the program for an attempt to establish a state monopoly – arguing that no textbooks will ever be sold once open textbooks are made available.
The European Commission later decisively backed e-textbooks in their reply to the publishers:
“nowadays digital technologies are the source of transformations that influence the public sector and all aspects of functioning in the main branches of economy. It is inevitable that these technologies challenge existing systems of formal teaching in all EU member states”.
It is worth noting that ultimately a single commercial publishing house, Grupa Edukacyjna, took part in the call for proposals and received a contract to create content for early-stage education (classes 1-3).
The Coalition for Open Education (KOED) and its member organizations have been the main supporters of the program. KOED supported strong open standards within the program both during an initial planning phase (in which experts from coalition member organizations were involved on an individual basis) and during the consultation process.
- April 2012: the Council of Ministers approves the decree which formally establishes the “Digital School” Program
- April 2012 – August 2013: pilot phase for the equipment and teacher training components
- April 2012 – September 2013: pilot phase for the textbooks component
- October 2012 – ORE selects Adam Mickiewicz Poznań University Supercomputing and Networking Center (PCSS) as the technical partner of the program, responsible for creating the online platform for digital textbooks.
- November 2012 – ORE selects four partner institutions responsible for creating the textbooks: Łódź University of Technology (math and computer science), University of Wrocław (humanities), Wrocław University of Environmental and Life Sciences (life sciences), and the Grupa Edukacyjna educational publisher (early education).
- September 2013: a pilot version of the online platform and a small content set is presented. Reception of the first textbook chapters is positive.
- Spring 2014: planned release date of initial set of textbooks (early education, natural sciences, humanities)
- September 2015: planned date for the release of the full set of 18 textbooks
Useful links (in Polish)
- Official site of the “Digital school” program:http://cyfrowaszkola.men.gov.pl/
- Beta version of the e-textbooks platform: http://epodreczniki.pl/.
- Blog of the PCSS technical team:http://blog.epodreczniki.pcss.pl/
- Scholaris, the national educational resources repository:http://scholaris.pl/
- Legislative process leading to the program adoption, on the Rządowy Proces Legislacyjny (Governmental Legislative Process) site:http://legislacja.rcl.gov.pl/lista/3/projekt/23941/katalog/23961
- Petition by the Coalition for Open Education in support of open e-textbooks:http://otwieramy.edu.pl/
- “Free the textbook” (Uwolnij podręcznik), a social campaign by Centrum Cyfrowe promoting open textbooks and requesting the Ministry of Education to introduce an open policy for all public educational content:http://uwolnij.podrecznik.pl