Interview : Asha Kanwar, Vice President, CoL, CanadaInterview : Asha Kanwar, Vice President, CoL, Canada

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 What are the current initiatives of Commonwealth of Learning to foster UN Millennium Development Goals?

Learning for Development is the theme of COL’s Three-year Plan for 2006-2009. It addresses a development agenda that includes the UN’s Millennium Development Goals, the goals of Education for All (Dakar), and Commonwealth’s objectives of peace, democracy, equality, good governance and the needs of small states. Increasing and improving human learning is the key to fulfilling most aspects of this development agenda. Conventional instructional approaches simply cannot expand quickly enough to meet the challenge. COL’s role is to help countries use a range of appropriate approaches and technologies to foster learning at scale.

Could you share with us the development goals of COL?

The Commonwealth of Learning was set up by Commonwealth heads of Government in 1997 to widen access to learning opportunities by ‘making use of the potential offered by distance education and by the application of communication technologies to education’.

COL works with ministries of education, educational institutions, civil society entities and individuals to build capacity in open and distance learning and applications of technology so that quality education and training can be provided to large numbers of Commonwealth citizens. For example, COL has worked with The Republic of Gambia to develop a policy for distance Higher Education. COL has worked closely with the National Teachers Institute in Nigeria to  offer distance education teacher training courses to large numbers of teachers. COL has supported the establishment of the national Open School of Trinidad and Tobago to expand access to secondary schooling. At the request of Commonwealth Ministers of Education, COL is coordinating the establishment of the Virtual University for Small States of the Commonwealth (VUSSC), which is a collaborative initiative involving 30 of the 32 Commonwealth small states. COL works with rural and urban communities to impart skills training for better livelihoods.

How is community media an effective tool for generating local consciousness?

Community Media, particularly the radio, is a very cost-effective electronic item that has immense reach and potential. If the radio is tapped as a community media as has been done in India to a great extent (CEMCA initiative on Community Radio Awareness with the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting, Govt of India), it would work wonders for generating awareness and empowering communities. The radio is affordable, available, user-friendly and accessible even in the most remote areas of the globe. We need to work on how we can optimise the potential of the radio as a teaching and advocacy tool.

What is the role of  ICTs in community driven media initiatives?

While the community radio is an initiative as well as a resource waiting to be taped by more and more Commonwealth countries, other forms of ICT in community driven media initiatives cannot be ignored or even ruled out. For far flung and difficult areas, the radio is effective, but for areas where literacy is higher and computers and Internet is easily available, it is a good medium of communicating community issues. Television may be tapped as another useful resource. The radio, the television, the Internet/ Internet Radio, Webcasting services, the I Pods, mobiles are increasing being used by the community. In the past few years, the growth of mobile telephones in Africa has exceeded the growth in South Asia and can be a powerful pedagogic tool. Really, the sky is the limit when it comes to the role of ICTs in community driven media initiatives. For instance, the I-Radio/Webcasting could be used to warn people/fishermen about impending storms. Farmers could be warned about the weather or dairy and poultry, and about infectious diseases.      

ICTs in community driven media initiatives may be used for framing policy, strategy, capacity-building and models to promote the use of mass media and ICTs.

What are some of the COL initiatives to bridge the digital divide besides CR?

COL has supported a Wiki platform called ‘WikiEducator”during the current Three Year Plan 2006-09, to encourage collaborative content development in resource-poor countries. Initiatives like ‘Easy Now’ provide technology options to content developers so that accessible and available technologies can be harnessed to provide education and training at all levels. However, the digital divide is a wider development issue. There have been many interventions in the last ten years to bridge the digital divide.

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