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In Focus 


COL’s work is guided by comprehensive Three-Year Plans that are developed through extensive evaluation and consultation. COL’s new Three-Year Plan, 2012-2015 has been approved by COL’s Board of Governors and will be presented at the 18th Conference of Commonwealth Education Ministers (CCEM), in Mauritius in August for endorsement by Ministers.

The theme of COL’s new Three-Year Plan remains “Learning for Development”. This plan extends to 2015, the target date set for the achievement of a number of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). COL uses the internationally agreed MDGs, the Education for All (EFA) goals and the Commonwealth priorities of peace, democracy, equality and the rule of law as its framework for action.


The new Three-Year Plan, 2012-2015 is the product of broad and intensive consultations with stakeholders across the Commonwealth. It reflects feedback from COL Focal Points, members of COL’s Board of Governors, staff, partners and other stakeholders. Major inputs include:

  • COL Focal Points: COL hosted Regional Focal Point meetings in Africa, Asia, the Caribbean and the Pacific to consult with its country contacts about the content of the new plan.
  • Mid-term Stakeholders Survey: This assessed the views and experiences of stakeholders, partners and staff regarding COL’s behaviour as an organisation.
  • External Evaluation: COL commissioned 10 “longitudinal” studies to trace the results of specific programme activities. These studies formed the basis of the overall evaluation, which measured COL’s progress against the Outcome Statements and Performance Indicators in the Logic Model for the Three-Year Plan, 2009-2012.



COL’s mission is to help governments expand the scale, efficiency and quality of learning by using appropriate technologies, particularly those that support “open and distance learning” (ODL).

Strategic goals

  • Quality education for all Commonwealth citizens
  • Increased access to affordable primary, secondary and tertiary education, especially for girls, women and the marginalised
  • Human resources development in the Commonwealth
  • Sustainable and replicable learning systems in place for farming, health and skills development in the formal and informal sectors
  • Harnessing ODL and technologies to achieve development goals
  • Improved capacity of governments and civil society to provide quality learning for achieving MDG and EFA goals

Impact statement

A substantial and equitable increase in the number of Commonwealth citizens acquiring the knowledge and skills for leading productive and healthy lives, through formal and non-formal open and distance learning opportunities.

Education sector

The four initiatives in the Education sector help countries improve the scope, scale and quality of formal instruction at all levels through the use of learning technologies. All Education initiatives include a commitment to support the development, adoption and use of OER.

  • Open Schooling: The main focus will be on girls’ education. COL will continue to work with ministries and institutions to introduce and expand open schooling to increase learning opportunities including technical and vocational subjects.
  • Teacher Education: COL will help governments of Commonwealth developing countries achieve Universal Primary Education by 2015 by increasing teacher supply and improving teacher quality. This initiative will focus on school-based, in-service training models.
  • Higher Education: COL will continue to support policymakers, institutions and leaders in higher education to harness the potential of open and distance learning (ODL) to cope with the combination of increasing demand for higher education, rising costs, diminishing public funding and the need to maintain high levels of quality. COL will develop Action Plans aligned to the priorities of specific countries to increase access to quality higher education and forge partnerships with international and regional organisations to leverage its impact.
  • VUSSC: COL will continue to support the work of this partnership of 33 small states of the Commonwealth in increasing access to tertiary education. The emphasis will be on the adoption and delivery of VUSSC programmes.

Livelihoods & Health sector

The three initiatives in this sector help communities, civil society and institutions to improve the livelihoods and health of their members by using learning technologies to enhance skills, share knowledge and develop new economic opportunities.

  • Technical and Vocational Skills Development: COL has demonstrated that using information and communication technology (ICT) and flexible and blended learning approaches can increase access to quality technical and vocational skills development equitably. The role of Technical and Vocational Skills Development is to overcome urban-rural and gender divides that exclude learners from skills training to create a skilled workforce of lifelong learners for the informal and formal economies.
  • Lifelong Learning for Farmers: Through this initiative, COL is a catalyst in bringing together government, institutions, civil society and the private sector to build the capacity of the rural workforce in agriculture through gender-sensitive ODL. COL will continue to facilitate self-replication and scaling up so that Lifelong Learning for Farmers can reach marginalised communities in many more countries.
  • Healthy Communities: COL helps communities address urgent health and development challenges through community learning programmes that emphasise collaboration, participation, and blended and multichannel approaches. COL will continue to engage strategic partners to support community learning, particularly among women and youth in resource-poor areas.

Crosscutting themes

Gender and eLearning underpin and complement all seven initiatives. COL uses ODL to help promote gender equality by increasing access to learning for women and girls. COL has adopted gender mainstreaming as an organisational strategy. This involves identifying gender-specific activities and initiatives, as appropriate, when girls/women or boys/men are in a particularly disadvantageous position. COL’s gender equality perspective ensures that its initiatives offer equal opportunities, benefits and participation to girls/women and boys/men.

“The increased emphasis on the education of women and girls will pay dividends for entire communities,” said COL President, Professor Asha Kanwar. “There is no doubt that poverty has a female face. The advancement of gender equality and women’s empowerment are essential to COL’s overall mission of Learning for Development.”

COL’s eLearning work aims to build the capacity of governments, institutions and individuals to use ICT for learning in both formal and non-formal contexts. This includes raising levels of digital literacy and the ICT competencies of teachers and continuing to work with UNESCO for the global advocacy of OER and the open licensing of educational materials produced with public funds.

Commonwealth Educational Media Centre for Asia (CEMCA)

COL’s regional agency in Asia is fully aligned with the COL programme and has initiatives in both the Education and Livelihoods & Health sectors. CEMCA maintains a regional remit and devises appropriate learning solutions. Promoting appropriate and low-cost technology options is the basis for all CEMCA interventions. CEMCA will continue its work supporting the development of OER policies, quality assurance in multimedia materials, sustainable community media, empowerment of women, a network of clearinghouses for content exchange and research on emerging technologies including use of mobile devices for learning.

COL also provides regional support to ODL in West Africa through the Regional Training and Research Institute for Distance and Open Learning (RETRIDOL) at the National Open University of Nigeria and in southern Africa through the Southern African Development Community – Centre for Distance Education (SADC-CDE) at the Botswana College of Distance and Open Learning (BOCODOL).

eLearning for International Organisations

The COL eLearning for International Organisations is a fee-for-service arrangement that responds to the capacity enhancement needs of international organisations. COL has developed and delivered courses in effective communication, report writing, operational data management, debt management, gender mainstreaming and youth development. Efforts will be directed to updating existing courses, developing new courses, delivering courses on the COL Virtual Learning Environment and increasing the reach of eLearning programmes.

“The new Three-Year Plan is the result of our most extensive consultation ever,” said Professor Kanwar. “The result is a highly focused plan that harnesses the potential of open and distance learning to respond to learning needs of the Commonwealth countries we serve.”

Review the Three-Year Plan, 2012-2015, the accompanying Logic Model, the mid-term stakeholder survey and evaluations: