Enhancing Higher Education through eLearning
Enhancing Higher Education through E-Learning Inaugural address presented at the: University Grants Commission (India)-Commonwealth of Learning "Dialogue on Enhancing Higher Education through E-Learning" New Delhi, India 17 - 19 November 2003 by: Gajaraj Dhanarajan (Professor Emeritus) President and Chief Executive Officer, Commonwealth of Learning // In a report to the Canadian Council of Ministers of Education on e-learning, authors reflected, "In the fifth century, B.C., Plato predicted that the invention of writing would weaken the oral tradition that sustained poets such as Homer". Yet poetry is still alive and well 2500 years later. Similarly, 500 years ago many believed that the invention of printing, by making intellectual creations easily available, would dry up the springs of intellectual creations, by ending a long standing tradition of oral debate and expressions. As we look back over the last 500 years from the vantage point of our knowledge-based society, a decline in intellectual vitality is more than a little difficult to discern, though certainly there may have been changes in some aspects of intellectual life. In fact, the existence of today's knowledge-based society is in part a testimony to the enormous intellectual energy of the last 500 years. No one could seriously argue today that the intellectual enterprise or teaching has suffered because of the intervention of writing or printing. "The new knowledge tools represent similarly revolutionary technologies, and we ignore them at our peril. Their potential is also clear. Online learning will be central to fostering the lifelong learning culture that will be essential to sustaining a civil and prosperous society in 21st century Canada."[i] // On the one hand, it would not be inappropriate to state that the last 20 years have seen some remarkable innovations in the delivery of learning. On the other hand, many would also argue that as remarkable as these innovations are, they are no more than a beginning. Developments in the next 20 years will make, as one former Secretary of Education of the USA, John W. Gardner, remarked, ". . . education as it is practiced in most schools today (look) so primitive." While this may be overstating optimism Professor Gardner's views are not totally unrealisable.[ii] The technologies that are available today and emerging in the near future have the potential to transform the business of education. However, what may be impeding that potential is the culture and tradition of our academe. Nine centuries of organised education has strong views and deep roots on what is best and what is not. Notwithstanding the reticence and the strong pull of tradition and history, we need to consider in light of the demand, quality, relevance of curriculum, appropriateness of content, strategies to utilise the potential of the new technologies to support a nation's aspirations to train its workforce to be a modern, well educated and highly competitive one in the global environment.