In 2016, the UNESCO Institute for Statistics (UIS, 2016) reported that more than 263 million children and youth were out of school and this number is increasing. More than 200 million are of secondary school age. This situation is a global education crisis. Mainstream schools in developing countries especially, cannot constructively address this crisis as they can hardly cope with the present numbers of learners in schools. These countries are faced with other challenges such as shortages of well qualified teachers, quality learning resources and a lack of classrooms and other infrastructure. To ensure that developing countries achieve SDG4, which aspires to ensure inclusive and equitable quality education and lifelong learning for all by 2030, a new way of thinking about schooling is required.
Open schooling is a supplementary or complementary model of schooling, which uses a range of flexible approaches, based on open and distance learning, to provide structured teaching and learning opportunities. It has emerged as a viable alternative to supplement and complement primary and secondary education and can be provided by standalone, independent distance education institutions, be managed as part of the education ministry within a specific directorate, or be part of a university. The open schooling model addresses the challenges of out of school youth without having a disruptive effect on mainstream schooling. Both systems can work symbiotically and can benefit from each other. There is no one perfect model for open schooling; individual countries can tailor the model to match their priorities.
Addressing the challenge of out of school youth requires a multi-dimensional approach. COL has been promoting the open schooling model across the Commonwealth. The new approach to open schooling at COL is more holistic and focuses on the training of teachers in eLearning, using open educational resources (OER), improving the management of open schools and supporting the use of appropriate technologies in teaching and learning. This involves integrating the open schooling approach into mainstream schools to enable many out-of-school youths to access formal education.
In 2017 and 2018, the ministries of education in Belize, Mozambique, Vanuatu, Zambia, Malawi and Trinidad and Tobago signed agreements to integrate open schooling in their education systems. The Open/Innovative Schooling initiative has also been working with partners to follow up on the outcomes of COL-supported programmes through research studies, and to promote peer auditing for quality assurance. Another important activity is the strengthening of the Commonwealth Open Schooling Association (COMOSA), through increased member engagement and social media presence.