Access to Knowledge

What is access to knowledge?

Knowledge is essential for so many human activities and values, including freedom, the exercise of political power, and economic, social and personal development.

According to CPTech, knowledge goods are fundamentally different from physical goods and services. They can be copied. They can be shared. They do not have to be scarce. The rich and the poor can, and should, be more equal with regard to knowledge goods than to many other areas.

Access to knowledge goods is viewed as a basic human right. If we think along these lines we understand that restrictions to access should be the exception, and not the rule. The rules that govern and influence access to knowledge goods exist at national, regional and even international levels. To give you an idea of the types of rules and regulations that govern access to knowledge goods:

  • A country’s Copyright Law;
  • International Treaties (formal agreements between two or more states) which govern how local copyright laws should interact with one another; and
  • International trade agreements.

The international fora where these rules and regulations are discussed and managed are at:

  • The World Intellectual Property Organisation
  • World Trade Organisation
  • World Summit on the Information Society

For more information on the background of access to knowledge, and the A2K movement, check out a great article on Consumers International website.

The A2K movement

Around the world, teachers, scientists and academics, journalists and civil society are amongst those who see the importance in the broadening of public access to information and knowledge.

The A2K movement takes concerns with copyright law and other regulations that affect knowledge and places them within an understandable social need and policy platform, by terming the phrase access to knowledge.

In physical terms, the A2K movement is a loose collection of civil society groups, governments, and individuals uniting on the idea that access to knowledge should be linked to fundamental principles of justice, freedom, and economic development. (definition taken from Wikipedia)

South Africa and Access to Knowledge

The access to knowledge movement in South Africa gained momentum around 2004 and 2005 when projects were started by civil society stakeholders, such as the Access To Learning Material in Southern Africa, and the Commons Sense projects.  These projects looked at the use of ICTs to enable access to knowledge, and also open content licences – such as the Creative Commons licences – that work in conjunction to the Copyright Act to allow more flexibility.  The access to knowledge is seen as being key in South Africa and Africa within the education environment.  Access to education materials is even included in our Constitution …

… everyone has the right to a basic education, including adult basic education and further education, which the State, through reasonable measures, must progressively make available and accessible  (Section 29(1) of the Constitution)

… but even the performance of South African learners in comparative tests with other countries is poor, and the 2009 matriculant results were disappointing.