Envisioning Equity in Global Development Agenda : Prof P R Ramanujam, IGNOU

The Pan Commonwealth Forum (PCF) brings together more than 70 countries to deliberate over issues relating to access and equity in educationthrough application of open and distance learning. Sheena Joseph, in conversation with Prof P R Ramanujam, finds out more about the 6th PCF event and its significance for IGNOU

How would you define the vision and mission of the 6th Pan Commonwealth Forum (PCF6)?

PFC6 envisions an immediate possibility of combining the experiences of the developed and the developing worlds in providing equal opportunities with the global agenda of development implying equitable distribution of benefits through innovative open distance learning methods and programmes.The mission is to give an opportunity for practitioners, researchers, planners and policy makers in the field of open education and development to share their experiences in shaping the future policies of open learning with a view to achieving Millennium Development Goals by 2015 as committed by the UN.

PCF6 has four main themes focussing on access and success in learning and global development perspectives. What is the significance of these themes in the current global scenario?

In the current global scenario, we see a highly complex and contradictory picture of tremendous prosperity on one side, contrasted with extreme poverty on the other. In such a situation social justice should be seen as a real empowerment of people at the local, national and global context. Formal education with proper focus on skills development in the individual as well as community development alone can empower people. 

However, it is easier said than done.  Unless we democratise education and develop appropriate skills for community development, empowerment will remain only a slogan. Without empowerment, equality, liberty and fraternity in a democratic society, and mutual respect, dignity and social justice cannot be expected.  Hence, the four themes were set as the focus for PCF6.

Could you elaborate on the how the PCF forum has evolved and matured over the years?

PCF has been growing in stature and scope involving more than 70 countries. Around 700 participants took part in PCF5 held in London last year. This year, we expect over 1000 participants to take part in PCF6. We envision this trend to continue. Also, the variety of themes and the formats of the conference have been continuously evolving to include greater participation of countries and institutions, besides individuals.

What are the key functions of the Pan-Commonwealth Forum Committees?

The programme committee consists of several international personalities and experts who provide their guidance, support and advice on how to plan and implement the various events during the conference. The diverse local committees take care of the integration of the minutest details of the process, evaluate and select abstracts and full papers. They handle numerous correspondences, and meet from time to time to review the progress of the conference. 

They provide expert advice to the PCF6 secretariat consisting of a handful of people who have to attend to a variety of complex tasks on a day to day basis. All these processes help in carrying forward and coordinating the pre-conference events being conducted at many different places simultaneously and culminating as a grand finale in Cochin.

PCF6 is being jointly organised by the Commonwealth of Learning (COL) and Indira Gandhi National Open University (IGNOU). What is the special significance of this event for IGNOU?

PCF6 coincides with the Silver Jubilee Celebrations of IGNOU that concludes on November 19, 2010. Several pre-conference workshops to be conducted by Commonwealth of Learning, IGNOU and many other institutions actually start on November 18, 2010. PCF6 is being conducted rather quietly and with little media glitter, although it deserves more media focus and support from various organisations. India as a emerging super power should pay more attention to education. The PCF6 platform will assume much more significance in wake of three major bills that will be passed by the Indian Parliament on National Council for Higher Education and Research, Educational Tribunal Bill, and the Foreign Universities Bill.  PCF6 may offer significant insights to the shaping of a reform agenda of education at all levels in India today, after passing the Right to Education Act.