Towards Education for All: the Critical Role of Open and Distance Learning in National Development

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Daniel, John
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Commonwealth of Learning (COL)

Namibian Conference on Open Learning, Windhoek, Namibia, 30 August 2005, Towards Education for All: The Critical Role of Open and Distance Learning in National Development By: Sir John Daniel, President and CEO, Commonwealth of Learning // In this address I shall place COL's work in the context of national and world development. Let me begin by asking what development is. We use the word often without always stopping to ask what we mean by it. This will lead me to describe the framework in which the international community is trying to promote development, in particular the Millennium Development Goals agreed by the United Nations. // As we examine these goals, familiarly referred to as the MDGs, we shall find that they call for action on a variety of fronts. But what they all have in common is that their achievement will require a massive increase in human learning. This is self-evident in the case of the goals related to education, but it is equally true for the health goals, the poverty goals, the hunger goals and all the others. This is a major challenge, because conventional approaches to education, training, teaching and learning simply cannot cope with the scale of the challenge. So what can we do? // In nearly all other areas of human endeavour technology has revolutionised the way we do things over the last three centuries. It has done so at an accelerating pace, with the result that today ordinary people in the industrialised countries have access, at low cost, to an abundance of quality goods and services that previous generations could hardly have dreamt of. It is now time to spread the benefits of this revolution to education, which has historically resisted it. Indeed, in education an insidious link between quality and exclusivity has gained currency. Quality education is often defined by the numbers excluded from it. // In today's world this is nonsense. I shall argue that new approaches, based on technology, have created a revolution in education by making it possible to expand access, improve quality and cut costs - and all at the same time. // But even these early efforts are not enough. Our four billion fellow human beings at the bottom of the economic pyramid do not enjoy most of the comforts of modern life that a minority take for granted. They have been ignored by the multi-national corporations that produce and deliver many of the goods and services that richer people enjoy. They have also, if they live in rural areas, been largely ignored by government services and providers of higher education. // Can we change this bad situation? Can we bring the majority of our fellow inhabitants of the planet into the mainstream? I shall suggest tools for this purpose and show how the Commonwealth of Learning is making a modest contribution to this transformation.

Education for All,Open and Distance Learning (ODL),Developing World