Why Open Data is key to teach democracy and citizenship

It has been taking me few days to put into words  what has happened in the country I called home for the last few years, it has been sad, confusing and overwhelming.

Not long ago, with my colleague Leo Havemann (@leohavemann) started doing some research about the value of Open Data as Open Educational Resources, and with a little help from our friends, we published a book and a paper, but until this point this was just an idea in our heads, Open Data is key to teach citizenship skills and to understand democracy, and we did lots of research about it, and we still do (with Chiara Ciociola, Fabrizio ScrolliniTim Coughlan, Francesca de Chiara and Annalisa Manca et al.) and we saw its value at theoretical level, but when I woke up on Friday, in despair, I noticed that as Open Data and Open Education community we haven’t done enough to educate others, because the voters in the UK have been misleading with false claims and manipulated by the right to believe that the root of evil were the migrants (EU, non EU & Refugees) and the axis of evil was European Union.

How could this happen? well, there are certain indicators that can explain this, those who voted for Brexit were mostly over 40 years old, and, Brexiters grew accordingly with age, the eldest were more prone to vote for leave, but, within this group, only 34.8% of the population completed tertiary education (Source: OECD Data), which means (for me) that the most vulnerable and illiterate group of the population were maliciously (mis)led to vote against the migrants and the EU, and were used as an instrument to promote a rather xenophobic agenda and to lead the country into a political and economical crisis, so the politicians can now have another scapegoat to blame, the illiterate and elderly people of Britain.


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But as they say here, we need to keep calm and carry on, however, this carry on, put us, and by us I mean people working in the fields of Openness (Education, Data, Science & Access) into promoting global citizenship, working closer with the civil society  (as the friends from Abrelatam, ILDA, Open Knowledge InternationalSchool of Data and SocialTIC are doing)to create spaces for capacity building for students, teachers and academics towards developing data literacies so people can understand numbers, graphs, statistics and can critically assess the information.

I firmly believe that Open Data is a key resource to teach critical thinking, and used as Open Educational Resources allows us to showcase phenomena and to build understanding of it by critically evaluating and assessing a problem. Since the referendum campaign started we have seen far too many graphs, but graphs are misleading, people cannot read them, and stats are manipulated by the media as big red numbers and letters and shocking images are to construct newspapers headlines, and the illiterate people are terrorised by fake facts and they cannot assess truth from lies.

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I know this is a sad time for many of us, scary for lots of us and probably uncertain for most of us, but I also see an opportunity for the Open Education community to collectively build a more democratic society because today promoting openness is key.  The more Open Access research is published the more people can read evidence-based information. If Open Data is used  in teaching and learning, students will be able to critically assess the media, to question their governments and their policies, and by embracing Open Science principles, students will be able replicate studies to critically construct their opinions.

We need to support the development of a more critical society  to prevent politicians creating a new scapegoat to manipulate the society, but mostly to make sure that the darkest hours of Europe  won’t repeat, because as Niemöller once wrote

“First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Socialist.

Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Trade Unionist.

Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Jew.

Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me.”


6 thoughts on “Why Open Data is key to teach democracy and citizenship

  1. Reblogged this on EduLabyrinths and commented:
    After having just completed a short communication for the journal “Tecnologie Didattiche” on OER for teaching social cohesion, in particular which in the refugee emergency, I embrace these words completely. We, as educators, need, now more than ever, to reflect how our practice can make this whole situation take a turn for the better…

  2. Well said Javiera. There’s a reason why so many fantastic open ed/open data/open scholarship projects are staffed by European colleagues – because this is an area Europe and its institutions have funded in the belief that it leads to a better educated and more cohesive society. Never was the need for collaboration – and for data literacy – made clearer than over the last three days.

  3. I come from a german family that had to leave because the terror of the war, my father was for an entire year a war prissioner and he did not die then only because he was a.Sunday child! As my grandma used to say 🙂 And I left my country because it was turning racist and full of hate agains those European migrants children, i.e. my generation. We were called the oligarchs and the ones risponsible for hunger and poverty. Nothing more wrong, but, racism and anger are completely irrational!
    Life is weard and operstes rather in misteroous ways, and as I said before anger is irrational and uneducated. Sometimes the more well educated are the worst racist and extremist. Therefore I read and read about the power of education and critical thinking and how it gives citizens the tools to analyse the lies that are embedded in the right wing campaigns, and I’m not entirely sure that it is the solution. Yes of course education is key for a cultivated society, no doubt! But there is more, there is a need to work for inclusion and equality, for tolerance and true compassion. We need to go to those critical spaces where poverty and sorrow overtakes family’s life and education is not even considered as an options. There is sooo much to do outside of the walls of our little HE and highly elitist bubble!!! I think the concept of open is powerful as it is the idea of students designing and implementing their PLes, but it is still very unlikely that these resources will be available to the one that need them the most.
    In sorrow and ache,
    Yours sincerely!

  4. Thank you, Javiera, for this wonderful post – written from both head and heart. I agree with you (and with Annalisa, Helen & Caroline) that open education/openness is a powerful tool for teaching data/digital literacy, democratizing education, and more broadly, working for for greater social inclusion and equality. I am happy to be working alongside you all in the open education field, working towards these goals. It has been a difficult few weeks, especially recent days, as we witness the effects of poor and mendacious leadership. Good and humane leadership is required, and our work becomes even more important – not just within but beyond HE, as Caroline eloquently described. As we continue our work in these unsettled times, I look forward to remaining connected through our networks of care and scholarship.

  5. Pingback: Why we need digital citizenship more than ever – helenbeetham

  6. Pingback: On media literacies and democracy | Thoughts on Open Education

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