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World leaders, meeting at the United Nations in 2000, set eight Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) that aim to transform the condition of humankind in the 21st century. These Goals now guide the policies of Governments and the priorities of development agencies.
Achieving the MDGs will require a massive expansion of human learning. Traditional methods of education and training cannot address the scope and scale of the task. Technology has already revolutionised other areas of human life and the world must now harness it to learning and teaching.
The Commonwealth of Learning (COL) is an intergovernmental agency created by Commonwealth Heads of Government to encourage the development and sharing of open learning and distance education knowledge, resources and technologies. COL operates on the premise that knowledge is the key to individual freedom and to cultural, social and economic development.
COL helps governments to develop policies that make innovation sustainable and to build systems or applications that expand learning. It works in partnership with other international and bilateral organisations working on the MDGs including: the Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA), the UK’s Department for International Development (DFID), New Zealand’s Agency for International Development (NZAID), UNESCO, UNICEF, the World Bank and the World Health Organization.
COL is a small agency. It achieves high impact through effective networking, its focus on technology and its special emphasis on the proven effectiveness of open and distance learning (ODL).
To maximise its impact, COL applies its expertise in ODL to tackle some of the most critical obstacles to the attainment of the Millennium Development Goals.
- Fighting hunger and improving prosperity by engaging farmers and other rural people in livelihood-related learning.
- Supporting innovative approaches to expanding teacher training, a major bottleneck to achieving primary education and gender parity.
- Improving the health of mothers and children and arresting the spread of disease through the use of participatory community media.
- COL addresses these barriers to development by leveraging its expertise in a multiplicity of partnerships and networks.
As a world leader in the field of knowledge management, COL has a special mission to help people access and use knowledge that can help them. The achievement of the Millennium Development Goals does not depend on knowledge and learning alone. Political decisions, for example to make trading arrangements more equitable for developing countries, also have a vital role.
However, ready access to usable knowledge can enable people in developing countries, from farmers to academics, to take rapid advantage of favourable changes.
Development depends on the creation, dissemination and application of knowledge by everyone. COL believes that technology can greatly facilitate these processes. The techniques of ODL give farmers the know-how to improve their livelihoods. Community learning programmes provide women the knowledge to raise a healthy family. Open schooling increases access to education. Distance learning enables teachers to upgrade their skills. OER expand availability of quality learning materials.
COL is an effective partner in combining knowledge and technology to advance development.
September 2011 (revised)