Making Education Accessible

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The 6th Pan Commonwealth Forum witnessed dialogues and deliberation on the various good practices on making education accessible to everyone. We bring a snapshot of the conference attended by more than 600 delegates from over 70 countries.

By Rajeshree Dutta Kumar

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From left, A Kalyani, VC, Tamil Nadu State Open University, COL Vice President Prof Asha Kanwar, Pro-VC Prof PR Ramanujam,VC Prof VN Rajasekharan Pillai, Sir John Daniel, President and CEO, COL, Burchell Whiteman, Chairman, COL Board of Governor,and Chief Guest Dr MS Swaminathan, inaugurating the PCF6 at Le Meridian Hotel in Kochi on November 25.

The 6th Pan Commonwealth Forum, jointly organised by the Indira Gandhi National Open University (IGNOU) and the Commonwealth of Learning (COL), kicked off at Kochi on November 25, 2010. The event was attended by over 600 delegates from across 70 countries to share and their best practices and learning over the next four days on the conference. The conference theme was `Access & Success in Learning: Global Development Perspectives.’

Linking Education to Sustainable Development

IGNOU Pro-Vice Chancellor and Programme Coordinator Prof P R Ramanujam welcomed the dignitaries. PCF6 was inaugurated by the Chief Guest, Prof M S Swaminathan, renowned agricultural scientist, who in his keynote address stressed on sustainable development and the need to link education with achieving happiness. The highlight of his deliberation was that there is a need to conserve the environment. He emphasised that sustainable development means comprehensive development at social, economical and ecological level. Burchell Whiteman, Chairman, COL Board of Governor, said that COL seeks to make a difference in the lives of millions of people across the commonwealth countries and tries to create greater impact through its various initiatives in the field of education. Sir John Daniel, President and CEO, COL elaborated on the themes of PCF6. According to him, community development means participation of members of the society; social justice means providing a wider economic and social system to the people; skill development is training millions of people in the informal economic sector and formal education means engaging people with content of learning with the help of technology.

Prof VN Rajasekharan Pillai, IGNOU Vice Chancellor said that the state of Kerala was an example of how tough goals could be achieved through proper planning and a dynamic vision. He gave an overview of his university by highlighting that the university will strive to optimally utilise the educational and training infrastructure in both the private and public sectors to ensure the national mission of increasing the Gross Enrollment Ratio. IGNOU, in the Eleventh Five-Year Plan Period (2007-2012), has embarked upon a large number of partnerships with and through Central and State Governments, and other governmental agencies. Almost all the Schools of Studies, Institutes and a few Regional Centres (RCs) of the University have effectively availed of these collaborations. Government departments have leveraged the nation-wide academic and infrastructural capabilities of IGNOU to conduct on-the-job training programmes and upgrade the qualifications of employees. In these partnerships, the projects are of the Ministries in the Central Government or State Governments. He also shared that grassroot level interactions and dissemination of the public-funded projects have also been facilitated by the ICT and satellite-enabled network of IGNOU, ably managed by its 61 Regional Centres and over 3,000 Study Centres

Prof Emeritus Tan Sri Anuwar Ali, President and Vice Chancellor, Open University, Malaysia with distinguished delegates

The millenium development goals (MDGs) notwithstanding, global pressures, like rising inflation and unemployment, omnipresent issues of disparity and the digital divide have made the need for equity even more colossal

Open and Distance Learning (ODL) and Social Justice

The session on `Open and Distance Learning (ODL) and Social Justice examined in detail the role of ODL in strengthening the empowerment process among the marginalised sections of the society and enhancing their power of negotiation in the stakeholder relationship.

Prof K Elumalai of IGNOU’s School of Law facilitated the session. Dr Martha Nkechinyere Amadi, University of Lagos emphasised that ODL means more freedom of access, and thereby a wider range of opportunities for learning and qualification educating girls was a social development policy that works. Dr Yasmin,University of North Bengal observed that continuing communication between teachers and students was of utmost of greater significance in providing education. Dr Helen Lentell of the University of Leicester spoke on the theme on ‘Going the distance. What it takes to achieve access & success in Distance Learning.’

Community Development

The session on Open Learning and Community Development was conducted in open environment to have a meaningful dialogue amongst the delegates. According to the Rapporteur Albert Amoah Saah, Kwame Nikrumah University, three groups of 41participants were created and discussed various models and methods of participation and strategic linkages between university and community linkages, and innovation through ICT in the ODL system.

A session on Formal Education at PCF6

Developing the Community: The Role of Universities and ODL

Opening the PCF6 proceedings the Keynote speaker, Prof Emeritus Tan Sri Anuwar Ali, President and Vice Chancellor, Open University, Malaysia, stressed that the higher education should reach ensure continuity with basic education for the mass, generate knowledge to drive and transform the community, widen access and create equity. He also shared with the delegates that communities, in present day, need universities and higher education more than ever before. Universities not only advise governments in policymaking decisions but also help developing skills, create knowledge and train leaders. “The MDGs notwithstanding, global pressures, e.g. rising inflation and unemployment, omnipresent issues of disparity and the digital divide have made the need for equity even more colossal. In the long run, it will prove vital for every single member of the community to have the opportunity to seek education and gainful employment, just as it is important to ensure that the community has access to basic social needs like housing, health care and nutrition,” he added.

Former Union Minister and renowned writer Dr Shashi Tharoor delivering Asa Briggs Lecture at PCF6 in Kochi.

After the opening session, delegates spread out to different rooms to have detailed discussions on subjects relating to four themes of the conference: Social Justice, Community Development, Skills Development, and Formal Education.

Role of Community Media

The session that needs special mention is the PCF seminar sponsored by UNESCO and COL, presented in two parts. Chaired by Wijayananda Jayaweera, Director, Communication Development Division, UNESCO, the seminar deliberated on the issues pertaining to the critical role of community media in linking learning and development. Maria Protz of the Caribbean Institute of Media and Communication, Prof Pushpesh Pant of Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi, Rafiqul Islam Khokan, Rupantar, Bangladesh and Lia Maka, Community Education and Training Centre, Secretariat, Pacific Community, among others, made presentations on various pressing issues on media and development.
There were concerns raised on the efficacy of the community media as a viable channel for widespread learning for development, growing domination of languages such as English in community media, thus running the risk of suppressing local languages and dialects that are essential in getting the messages across to local communities.

Gender and Education

The other session which generated a great deal of discussion was on gender issues. While Sir John Daniel chaired the session, Dr Rekha Sharma Sen of IGNOU and Dr Sherllin (Australia) made valuable presentations on how gender issues were creating hurdles in spread of education. Dr Sherllin quoted studies to emphasise the role of new technology such as cell phones in empowerment of women. Dr Rekha Sharma Sen of IGNOU presented a paper based on her study of certain prevailing beliefs regarding approaches to study and learning styles.

Building Skills

In another session, George Herd of the Commonwealth of Learning (COL), Africa, dwelled upon the needs of a flexible Open and Distance Learning system. ODFL

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