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Social Justice for Open Education in Complex Educational Contexts: Bilingual Institutions

This blog post has been written to meet the requirements of the course OPEN9600, Open Education Policy and Leadership, as part of the Professional Program in Open Education offered at Kwantlen Polytechnic University.

It is understood that to implement real changes in education, regarding open education and OER, we must have leaders who are moving things forward and policies or recommendations that guide the projects and the implementation of these changes. But this can be complicated as we are working in complex and unique settings. For this week’s blog, I decided to reflect on a context that is close to me at the University of Ottawa, a bilingual educational setting with a linguistic minority group.

Complex educational context: Bilingual institutions and linguistic minority groups

I’ve been reflecting on social justice for linguistic minority groups for a while. I’ve dedicated a whole master thesis to the topic (hence this website). In Canada, there are 22 postsecondary institutions that are either francophone or bilingual in a minority setting, which indicates that there are thousands of students studying in French outside of Québec. It is important to reflect on the equity issues they face. While searching on the topic, I realized that the current open education movement can be seen as unilingual Anglophone and homogeneous (Cobo, 2013; Hodgkinson-Williams & Trotter, 2018; Karakaya & Karakaya, 2020). Therefore, I’ve asked myself this question: Can we say that open education is truly open, inclusive, and equitable for minority language speakers? This is where social justice comes into play.

To provide a bit more context on what equity issues can look like at a bilingual institution, I think it’s worth looking into the University of Ottawa. The University of Ottawa released in 2019 its Action Plan for the Francophonie. This report presents actions to promote the success of three major objectives, namely, to ensure more effective governance of the Francophonie at the University, to strengthen the presence and influence of the Francophonie on campus, and finally to better communicate the University's Francophone mission to its various target audiences (Cardinal, 2019). In 2021, the University presented its first summary report that presents the main findings of the consultations on the Francophonie at the University of Ottawa. Unfortunately, we see some striking inequities regarding francophone students. The report highlights the lack of access to courses in French, primarily due to the lack of course offerings. The report also notes the close link this issue has to the availability of course resources and textbooks. The lack of access to French language courses and learning resources, which also includes software, " significantly reduce the quality of the Francophone student experience. Unfortunately, this leads to the creation of two categories of students who simply do not have the same rights" (Office of the Vice-President, International and Francophonie, 2021, p. 7).

I consider open education (which includes OER and open educational practices), with an inclusive and social justice perspective, as a way to mitigate the complexity of those equity issues. Lambert (2018) suggests a definition of open education that focuses on the movement's potential for social justice, particularly for learners who are marginalized or underrepresented in systems, of which francophone students in minority settings are part:

Open Education is the development of free digitally enabled learning materials and experiences primarily by and for the benefit and empowerment of non-privileged learners who may be under-represented in education systems or marginalized in their global context (p. 239).

It suggests that open education is there to address a broader issue than the price of textbooks, namely access to education and academic success for all. But the definition does not address minority languages and cultures of students and professors. In the context of my master's degree, I developed a definition that considers the particularities and potential of open education in minority language communities:

Open educational practices in minority language contexts are evolving critical pedagogical practices that are recontextualized in the languages and cultures of the local context. They are characterized by the creation and sharing of open knowledge and learning materials by and for minority language speakers and thus contribute to a form of linguistic revitalization. The contribution and collaboration between students and teachers are at the heart of the practices (Lachaîne, 2023).

But how do we put this definition into action?

Leadership and Policy

This is where leadership and policies are essential. Without leaders and experts, it is quite difficult to implement innovative open practices with a social justice perspective.

In their policy co-creation method, Atenas et al. (2019) identify key elements to consider for policymaking, such as process, partners, context, and stakeholders. In a complex educational context, these elements are even more important and must be considered carefully. Regarding the context, they say that socio-cultural issues are important to examine. In my example, we need to really understand the francophone students, where they come from, their educational background, challenges, and issues they face. Partners are also important. We would ideally like people who really understand that specific group, that might be related to it, and leaders that can help the process to succeed. Leaders are those who see equity issues and act for them. It’s not trivial to see leadership as a core transversal dimension of open education (Inamorato dos Santos et al., 2016). Leadership is important in policymaking because it “promotes actions that enable the take up of open education across a university by a whole range of stakeholders, including learners” (Inamorato dos Santos et al., 2016).

To fully integrate a social justice perspective, students should also be considered as partners and leaders. By engaging students in discussion, they can express their needs and challenges and participate in problem-solving and policymaking.

To better understand how social justice can help better support Francophone students at the University of Ottawa through open education, I've adapted Sarah Lambert's work on three social justice principles.

Social Justice for Open Education in a Linguistic Minority Setting: Consideration for Policymaking is an adaptation of "Three Principles of Social Justice Applied to Open Education" by Sarah Lambert (2018) under a CC BY-SA 4.0 license. Social Justice for Open Education in a Linguistic Minority Setting: Consideration for Policymaking is attributed to Catherine Lachaîne and is under CC BY-SA 4.0 license.

Because of the uniqueness of some educational contexts, it’s difficult to apply a formatted process. But the social justice framework for open education can help leaders set the table for strategic, positive, and sustainable policy development that supports all learners.


Atenas, J., Havemann, L., Nascimbeni, F., Villar-Onrubia, D., & Orlic, D. (2019). Fostering Openness in Education : Considerations for Sustainable Policy-Making. Open Praxis, 11(2), Article 2.

Cardinal. L. (2019). A Shared Responsibility: An Action Plan for the Francophonie at the University of Ottawa.

Cobo, C. (2013). Exploration of open educational resources in non-English speaking communities. The International Review of Research in Open and Distributed Learning, 14(2), 106‑128.

Hodgkinson-Williams, C. A., & Trotter, H. (2018). A social justice framework for understanding open educational resources and practices in the global south. Journal of Learning for Development, 5(3).

Inamorato dos Santos, A., Punie, Y., Castaño-Muñoz, J. (2016) Opening up Education: A Support Framework for Higher Education Institutions. JRC Science for Policy Report.

Karakaya, K., & Karakaya, O. (2020). Framing the Role of English in OER from a Social Justice Perspective : A Critical Lens on the (Dis)empowerment of Non-English Speaking Communities. Asian Journal of Distance Education, 15(2).

Lachaîne, C. (2023). Pratiques éducatives ouvertes au postsecondaire en milieu minoritaire francophone au Canada : Défis et possibilités pour viser l’équité linguistique [Thesis / University of Ottawa].

Lambert, S. R. (2018). Changing our (Dis)Course : A Distinctive Social Justice Aligned Definition of Open Education. Journal of Learning for Development, 5(3).

Office of the Vice-President, International and Francophonie (2021). Summary Report - Towards a renewed Francophonie at the University of Ottawa: A Shared Responsibility.


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