Creating a Niche in Open Learning

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Open-LearningThe Commonwealth of Learning’s biennial Pan-Commonwealth Forum on Open Learning has grown to become the leading international conference on learning and development. It is co-hosted with partners in different regions of the Commonwealth
By Yukti Pahwa

A unique platform showcasing over 70 countries for deliberating and exploring potential of Open and Distance Learning is what Pan Commonwealth Forum(PCF) represents in today’s world. It is an international event that aims to bridge digital divide and advancing the social and economic development of communities and nations at large. The event is organised by the Commonwealth of Learning (COL), that has already hosted five of such events in past. These events were hosted in countries including Brunei, Darussalam (PCF1); Durban, South Africa, (PCF2); Dunedin, New Zealand (PCF3); Ocho Rios, Jamaica (PCF4), and London, U K (PCF5). This year PCF 6 is being hosted in Kochi, bringing the forum for the first time in India. Following is a peek-view of the PCF events that have taken place in the past.


PCF 1 took place in year 1999, from 1st to 5th March. It was organised amidst the celebration of ten years of the Commonwealth of Learning. The conference was themed ‘Empowerment through Knowledge and Technology’ and was co-hosted by the Brunei Darussalam Ministry of Education and Universiti Brunei Darussalam. The forum came into being as a result of the 13th Conference of Commonwealth Education Ministers held in Botswana, which took place in the year before PCF 1.

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PCF 1 was attended by eminent dignitaries including his Excellency Chief Emeka Anyaoku, Commonwealth Secretary-General; Mia Amor Mottley, Minister of Education, Youth Affairs and Culture, Barbados; Clare Short, Secretary of State for International Development, Britain; Maurice Strong, Special Adviser to the UN Secretary-General Chairman, Earth Council; Noah A. Samara, Chairman/Chief Executive Officer WorldSpace Corporation; Sir John Daniel, Vice-Chancellor, The Open University, UK; Armoogum Parsuramen, Director, Division for the Renovation of Secondary & Vocational Education, UNESCO; and so on. The forum furthermore displayed case studies, workshops, poster displays and examples of work following five sub-themes including  non-formal adult and community education; corporate/industrial training; primary and secondary (open) schooling; technical and vocational education and training; and university and college education. In order to honour excellence COL also recognised contribution of outstanding achievements and established ‘a Commonwealth-wide Excellence in Distance Education Programme (EDEP)’. The EDEP further had four categories of awards – COL Anniversary Honours: recognising institutional achievements; COL President’s Awards: recognising excellent distance education materials; honorary fellows of COL: recognising individual achievements; and COL Learning Experience Award: recognising learners’ experiences.


It took place from 29 July 2002 to 2 August 2002, at International Convention Centre (ICC), Durban, in the Kwa Zulu-Natal Province of South Africa. The event was themed as ‘Open Learning: Transforming Education for Development’. The second forum was to further examine the broad range of applications within the theme of open and distance learning. It showcased what is achievable with vision, concern for the learner, effective learning and learning facilitation and utilising and increasing appropriate use of technology.

There were simultaneously organised the electronic conferences will be open to registered participants and others unable to attend the Forum. On-line, ‘virtual’ conferences were a great success at the inaugural forum and were again being organised to help the conference planners and delegates prepare for the Forum. The virtual conference was conducted via the dedicated Forum website and will take place in the first half of 2002. The established Commonwealth-wide Excellence in Distance Education Awards (EDEA) were again presented following the previous years categories.


A successful Third Pan-Commonwealth Forum on Open Learning (PCF3) was held in Dunedin, New Zealand, from 4 – 8 July 2004, hosted by the Distance Education Association of New Zealand (DEANZ), the Government of New Zealand and the Commonwealth of Learning (COL). The theme for PCF3 was ‘Building Learning Communities for Our Millennium: Reaching Wider Audiences through Innovative Approaches’. The sub-themes include: Education, Health and Local Government. There were 412 registered participants. These included several governmental ministers, dignitaries and educationalists from 43 Commonwealth nations. Also, a series of four e-mail-based virtual conferences were held in May and June 2004 as a lead-up to the Third Pan-Commonwealth Forum on Open Learning.

COL, this year announced award winners on 6 July 2004. Additionally, since the Distance Education Association of New Zealand (DEANZ) wished to promote and reward excellence in e-learning, distance, open and flexible learning, a category of award was introduced known to COL awards known as the ‘DEANZ Award’, open to individuals or groups in New Zealand, or New Zealand citizens living overseas, who have completed a project that meets the criteria of the Award. The conference saw the presence of Sir Shridath Ramphal, former Commonwealth Secretary-General (1975-1990) and former Foreign Minister of Guyana; Shona Butterfield, TEC Commissioner; Walter Erdelen, Assistant Director-General for Natural Sciences, UNESCO; Ann Therese Ndong-Jatta, Secretary of State for Education, the Gambia; and so on.


Presented by the Commonwealth of Learning and the Caribbean Consortium, the Fourth Pan-Commonwealth Forum on Open Learning (PCF4) was themed ‘Achieving Development Goals: Innovation, Learning, Collaboration and Foundations’ and took place at Sunset Jamaica Grande Resort, Ocho Rios, Jamaica, from 30 October – 3 November, 2006. The conference was chaired by Sir John Daniel, President and CEO, Commonwealth of Learning (COL) and Professor  Stewart Marshall, Director, the University of the West Indies Distance Education Centre (UWIDEC). Prime Minister of Jamaica, the honourable Portia Simpson-Miller gave the opening address at the conference, while keynote speech was delivered by Sir John Daniel. Other eminent speakers at the conference included Winston Cox, Professor Penina Mlama and Dr Sugata Mitra.

The sub-themes of the conference included innovation, learning, collaboration and foundations; in relation to ODL and technology-mediated learning and were chosen as a means to interrogate the development potential of our practice. Keeping up with the tradition COL’s ‘Excellence in Distance Education’ awards were presented at the forum on 2 November, 2006.


PCF5 was an international conference that deliberated and explored the contribution of open and distance learning to international development goals, by opening up access to learning at every level. The conference was co-hosted by COL and University of London, from 13-17 July 2008, at University of London. The forum, in 2008, was themed ‘Access to Learning for Development’, with focus on children and young people, health, livelihoods, governance, conflict and social justice. PCF 5 for the first time brought the event to Europe. The event sought to address open and distance learning through widening educational access, bridging the digital divide and by advancing the social and economic development of communities and nations at large. PCF5 brought together over 700 delegates from 70 countries.The conference took place at the Institute of Education, University of London. One of the objectives of PCF5  was to facilitate a dialogue that went beyond the conference in London and to support this objective, an online discussion forum on Googlegroups was launched. Additionally, Googlegroup discussions on each of the Forum’s four themes: Provision for Children and Young People, Governance, Health, and Livelihoods were also facilitated.

Some of the key people present at the conference included Carol Bellamy, President and CEO of World Learning; Nicholas Burnett, Assistant Director-General for Education at UNESCO; Zamal Uddin Biswas, Grameen Bank, Bangladesh; Professor L

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