Last week I had the opportunity to travel to Palestine, to the West Bank to visit our OpenMed partners for the Palestine OER strategy Forum. Palestine, as land, is not always available in the modern maps, because if you search for it in Google Maps, you can see the West Bank and Gaza, but its name, State of Palestine it has been simply wiped out from today’s most popular cartographic search engine. So due to it’s political history, this Open Education trip has let me thinking about what I am doing, and why….
Our trip started in Ramallah, a beautiful and vibrant city, were you can see the Mediterranean sea from distance, but if you were born there, and you don’t have the right credentials, you don’t hold the right to get there, so you can only see the sea from the top the city, but you are separated from it because there is a wall.
The first day we visited Nablus and its university [An-Najah], where we were welcomed with cardamom infused coffee and kunefe, and we were told about the story and the current situation of HE in Palestine, they explained us how it works and how many students they have, how do they teach and how they are innovating, despite lack of access to things we normally take for granted, like internationalisation, as they cannot have visiting students because the visas granted are shorter than the semesters, and because there are very little visas granted for foreign academics.
Our trip continued to Jerusalem, the holy land, we took a taxi that transferred us to the first checkpoint of the day, because Palestinian cars are not allowed to circulate in Israeli roads. We crossed the checkpoint by foot (me in crutches) and I must say, that having to do this myself reminded me on how fortunate I am. I was born in Chile, therefore I hold a Chilean passport and I can go almost whatever I want without a visa, but also, I hold the British citizenship, and as such, I can move freely across almost every country, with very little exceptions without asking for permission. Crossing a checkpoint, from the perspective of a free citizen is overwhelming, because you stand on a queue, you are surrounded by fences, and when you manage to cross that metallic revolving door, your items are scanned and you must pass a metal detector and then, you are asked why you are there, in my case, and despite the politeness of the border officer, I did feel immensely sad.
Jerusalem, once you reach it takes you back in time, is lively, and vibrant, and magic, and crazy, the colours, the aroma, the voices, and sometimes you don’t know if you are in the past, the present or the future, and even though when you are not a spiritual person (like me) you feel that there is something special and magic in that city, where every stone you touch means something to someone, and where peace, faith and devotion can be seen in every corner.
From Jerusalem we moved to Bethlehem, and again the place seemed magic to me, because you realise that if Jesus was born in 2017 he will be a Palestinian, therefore he may need to hold a permission to cross to Jerusalem and he and his parents will be subject to checkpoints and scrutiny before entering Jerusalem, and you think why this is all so unfair, because there is the Nativity Church, and then, there is the wall, and there is a checkpoint that separates two cities that are holy, sacred and still alive. Once you see the wall, that wall, your heart breaks, you don’t understand why, and your head starts spinning, and while it spins, you have to cross another checkpoint, by foot, to get back to Ramallah.
The day of the Palestine OER strategy forum started with our Palestinian colleagues telling us what they are doing and us telling them about OpenMed, but there was one presentation that really inspired me, called Open Education for Palestine in which professor Marwan Tarazi stated that Open Education is a tool for liberation. He mentioned that under the current occupation, openness becomes essential to Palestine at philosophical level, and that the educators in Palestine need to open up because, in his words “if you don’t open up, someone will do under their own terms, therefore, if you don’t have an agenda, someone else will do“.
His presentation let me thinking, why I do what I do in the way I do it, I do believe in Openness, yes, but I never considered openness as a tool for liberation, yes for social justice, yes as an instrument for active citizenship, or as a tool to promote human rights, and this is not just about Open Education, but also concerns Open Data and Open Access, and also, Open Science, and his thoughts got me inspired, because sometimes the liberation has to do with becoming free from colonial and dominant perspectives, when we do teach or train communities in countries which are under the [awful] global south euphemism, we are liberating us/them from a discurse that is oppressive, allowing people and countries to grow accordingly to their own culture, telling stories from their own perspective and not playing the economy game imposed by the neoliberal rule.
The realities of these countries are diverse, as such is their culture, therefore access to material goods and to decent life standards are subject to the oppression of neoliberalism, capitalism, and predatory economic models which affect the access to basic human rights, proper education, a good and strong health system, an income that allows you to feed your loved ones without having to work in infra-human conditions.
When we do Open (Education, Data, Government, Science and Access) we need to consider that certain rules are better skipped, in the case of Open Education there is a tendency that does not exist in other Open fields, which is to consider Open just what is under the 5 Rs, therefore OER tends to mean resources are openly licensed and follow OE rules as if this was a dogma, but Open means to me, able to share your content, to detach your research from predatory – corporate publishers and to ignore for example the University Rankings, because their metrics are in a system that may not be helping to achieve success under each region or countries our own terms, because the rules are white and Anglo-Saxon, and each country and region tend to play at other rhythms, and ways of work.
Opening up means to me to share, to do things in a transparent way, to collaborate, to support and to provide the tools for educators and students to be critical thinkers, to challenge and to question, to become communities and not to follow a rule that tells you if you are open enough according to someone else’s agenda, so just be open, under your own terms, share, distribute, communicate, participate, engage, thinking that before Open rules there are human rights, and that accessing quality education is one of these.
PS1: Thanks to Birzeit University and An Najah Universities for the invitation, specially to Rania, Rula and Saida, you are very inspiring women, also to Abdellatif and Marwan, this event has been by far the most inspiring I have ever attended.
PS2: Thanks to Cristina, Fabio,Daniel, Isidro, Katherine, Sarah, Javier, Antonio and to the rest of the OpenMed team, you people are amazing.
PS3: Any typos, blame the minions, they are not good at grammar because they don’t like to go to school.
PS4: All the pictures are public domain, I took them so I do what I want with them.
PS5: This is my personal perspective and are my views and may not represent the views of my employers, that’s why I’m using my personal blog to post it.