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Welcome to the launch of the Open Book Project. And when I think about what we are doing here today in this setting, I do believe that the United States has a great opportunity to work with institutions and governments and individuals and the Arab League and work together on behalf of common endeavors that make a difference, particularly to our young people.
Ben Franklin, as I just mentioned, was one of our great scientists, educators, publishers, and diplomats. I think of him as America’s founding father of good ideas. And harnessing the connective power of technology to give as many people as possible access to the highest-quality learning materials is a good idea whose time has come.
Two promising developments have brought us to this moment. First, since the early days of the Arab revolutions, the United States and the Arab League have worked more closely together than ever before. This fall in New York, we signed an agreement to cooperate more deeply and held the first U.S.-Arab League Dialogue. At a time when extremists everywhere work to deepen divides across cultures, we see partnerships like this as one chance to bridge them. And we see educational diplomacy as the means for fulfilling the obligation to try to match reality and actions with the aspirations and hopes of the men and women across the Arab world.
Secondly, we live at a time when technology is expanding access to information and learning materials like never before. You can look around the world and see young adults in remote villages and towns huddling around a computer watching videotaped physics lessons by MIT professors. Top universities like Rice University are creating free online textbooks and saving students money in their studies. Science education websites like Khan Academy go viral. There are other examples, and these are all fruits of technological progress, but also of a commitment to make more learning materials open – free, open licensing for anyone to use, adapt, and share. And many of the experts in this room today have been at the forefront of efforts to advance open learning, and I particularly want to acknowledge Under Secretary Martha Kanter, who has been a leader at the Department of Education.
Now, all of this leaves me, as Secretary of State for a few more days, thinking about how we can make this powerful new tool part of our efforts to build friendships and partnerships, and deliver the benefits of open education to more people and more places.
Through the Open Book Project, we will work to expand access to free, high-quality, open education materials in Arabic, with a focus on science and technology. Our hope is to lower geographic, economic, and even gender-based barriers to learning. Anyone with access to the internet will be able to read, download, and print these open materials for free or adapt a copy that meets the local needs of their classrooms or education systems.
Now, you could say we are returning to a very old tradition, because at a time when Europe was still in the dark ages, Arab scholars preserved seminal writings from ancient Egypt, Greece, and Rome that would have otherwise have been lost. Today, we are honored to welcome representatives of the Arab League, of ALECSO and the Arab diaspora working to bring scientific knowledge and innovation to the people of today.
Now, we know it’s not enough to generate the right material. We have to work together to make sure it is connected to Arab educators, students, and classrooms, and I hope we can put a full year of high-quality college-level science textbooks – biology, chemistry, physics, and calculus – online, for free, in Arabic. And we also want to help Arab professors and intellectuals create their own open courses. And I know many of you have many more ideas to share.
I’m proud that so many trailblazers in open education come from the United States, including Creative Commons, the Hewlett Foundation, ISKME, Meedan, MIT OpenCourseWare, the OpenCourseWare Consortium, and Rice University OpenStax College. Your work is already proving that it has the potential to transform the way students learn across the world. Now, of course, this is a relatively new field, and there are a lot of questions about standards, accreditation, connecting online learners to employment. But we have to start, and we can start by doing what we are doing today – learning as we go, asking the hard questions, and getting good answers that we then will be able to share.
As I have traveled the world, I must say that we’re living at a moment when young people’s hunger for knowledge, opportunity, good jobs, the future that they seek, has never been more powerful. And it is also connected to peace and security. So let’s think of how we can creatively deliver on this very exciting program.
So I am honored to host you today and to look forward to hearing about what happens with this exciting new initiative. I’m honored to start it as Secretary of State after all the hard work that has gone into it, and I will be equally excited to follow it from outside when I leave the Department, and still care deeply about these issues and will do what I can to support you. Thank you all very much.