November 2020 issue of Connections now available
20 November 2020

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Building back better

"COL recognised the need for innovative approaches that combine the power of technology with inclusion."

It has now been almost a year of unprecedented disruptions to lives and livelihoods caused by COVID-19, and those already most vulnerable – children from poor families, especially girls, and persons with disabilities – have been the ones to suffer the most. 

As an intergovernmental organisation committed to reaching “the last person in the queue” with quality education and lifelong learning, COL recognised the need for innovative approaches that combine the power of technology with inclusion. COL was quick to provide targeted responses aimed at narrowing the divide between the “haves” and “have-nots.”

In partnership with the Coursera Workforce Recovery Initiative, COL has offered skilling and reskilling opportunities for employability to more than 115,000 Commonwealth citizens. In Guyana, these online course enrolments involved 10% of the country’s population in the 15−35 age group, and the credentials earned will be recognised for employment

COL’s course on Using Open Educational Resources for Online Learning: An Introduction has contributed to learning continuity in the Pacific, Caribbean and beyond – reaching over 11,500 educators with its contemporary learning design and emphasis on peer engagement.

In India, COL supported the training of 5,000 women in digital skills for entrepreneurship, leveraging the potential of basic phones to ensure that they could find new ways to sustain their businesses.

Realising that COVID-19 has exacerbated the issue of violence, COL has worked with The Solomon Islands National Council of Women to develop a mobile app with information on various services related to gender, education, health and violence.

COL is also supporting persons with disabilities by developing resources, training teachers and partnering with specialist organisations, such as the Global Rainbow Foundation in Mauritius.

Over the past year, it has become increasingly clear that “business as usual” no longer works, and that technologies suitable for different contexts will have to become part of “the new normal.” With its mandate to promote distance learning, COL is best placed to help Member States use the opportunities offered by distance education to build back better.

Image caption: COL’s partner in Bangladesh, CMES, marked the International Day of the Girl 2020.





COL–Coursera regional convocations

Over 2,300 learners from 17 African nations who had successfully completed online courses under the COL−Coursera Workforce Recovery Initiative were recognised at a virtual convocation on 18 August 2020. The event celebrated graduates’ resilience and commitment to learning in the face of COVID-19. Collectively, they had invested over 100,000 hours of learning, gaining new skills to be relevant in the changing job market. Along with the graduates, participants included COL’s President and CEO Professor Asha Kanwar, Coursera CEO Jeff Maggioncalda and education ministers from Botswana, Ghana and Namibia.


The achievements of 3,000 Caribbean learners were celebrated on 22 September, with participation by education ministers from Barbados, Guyana, Grenada and Saint Lucia. Graduates, who had collectively accumulated over 150,000 hours of learning, were commended for their passion for personal development and business skills and for becoming an inspiration to other young people who had lost their livelihoods in the pandemic.

With support from various government agencies, COL and Coursera have effectively responded to the individual needs of these learners.

Rethinking smart education

COL is a partner in a new project led by the UNESCO Institute for Information Technologies in Education, which aims to identify key trends in smart education and explore solutions that use ICT, so as to ensure inclusive and equitable quality education and lifelong learning opportunities for all.

UNESCO Mobile Learning Week

COL hosted a virtual workshop in partnership with Mann Deshi Foundation and Vidiyal, India as well as the Indian Institute of Technology Kanpur as part of UNESCO’s Mobile Learning Week. The event featured COL’s innovations in linking rural women to quality learning via the use of basic mobile phones.

Skills for a resilient youth

COL partnered with UNESCO’s International Centre for Technical and Vocational Education and Training to organise the Virtual Conference on Skills for a Resilient Youth. The conference analysed ways to build TVET skills for “the new normal” by developing emerging accessible simulation materials as possible answers to challenges.

C-DELTA shortlisted

COL’s Commonwealth Digital Education Leadership Training in Action (C-DELTA) programme was nominated as a finalist for the Falling Walls 2020 award in the category of Digital Education. Presented annually, the awards recognise select breakthroughs of the year in a range of topics.

Impact of MOOCs

Good agri-practices MOOC in The Bahamas

The Bahamas Ministry of Agriculture and Marine Resources and The Bahamas Agricultural Health and Food Safety Authority delivered a MOOC on various aspects of agricultural practices contributing to economic, social and environmental sustainability. The seven-week MOOC attracted 673 learners from 35 countries, with 325 participants earning certificates of completion. This was the first MOOC offered in partnership with COL, allowing the ministry to reach learners throughout the archipelago’s length and breadth.

Over 2,000 Tamil Nadu farmers acquire pest management skills

Farmers from two districts in the Indian state of Tamil Nadu learned various aspects of integrated pest management through a mobiMOOC offered jointly with two local community-based organisations. The course was delivered over five weeks in the framework of COL’s Lifelong Learning for Farmers programme. It was structured as a series of short audio lessons, which offered relevant and easy-to-use information to farmers. A total of 2,199 farmers enrolled in the course, and nearly 90% remained active throughout the course.

Corporate literacy for farmers in India

A new MOOC on corporate literacy was jointly offered by COL and India’s National Bank for Agriculture and Rural Development (NABARD) via basic mobile phones to more than 1,500 farmers. COL provided expertise in open and distance learning, while the technology platform was offered by the Indian Institute of Technology Kanpur using an open-source software called mooKIT. Learning materials developed by NABARD were made available as short audio clips. COL plans to gradually extend the mobiMOOC to interested Commonwealth countries in sub-Saharan Africa and the Caribbean.

COL and UNESCO Institute for Lifelong Learning launch new course

In recognition of the important role teachers, carers and other stakeholders play in ensuring the success of distance learning during events like COVID-19, the UNESCO Institute for Lifelong Learning has partnered with COL to offer a course on how to plan family and intergenerational literacy learning programmes in various country contexts. It is designed for a wide range of education professionals from civil society organisations, non-governmental providers and government institutions for literacy and early childhood education, as well as teacher education institutions. The new online course strengthens the capacity of various institutions to nurture collaboration between the teacher, the parent/carer and other non-classroom actors in supporting the learning process, especially during this pandemic.

“Teaching in a Digital Age” available as a course

A new course released by COL aims to help improve the quality of teaching in campus-based, blended or fully online learning environments. It is based on a 12-part video series produced by COL earlier this year in response to the COVID-19 crisis. The course can be accessed here.

Training staff of international organisations

For the past seven years, COL’s eLearning for International Organisations (eLIO) has been helping the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) build staff capacity in programme management. This year, the certification programme continued despite COVID-19 disruptions, with individual e-coaching support, learner tracking and tutor management. Traditionally delivered in a blended mode, this year’s programme was conducted via virtual workshops over several weeks, making use of new online tools.

The practical assignments gave Goretti Akareut (UNHCR, Uganda) an opportunity to understand the operation’s specific experiences better. She said: “ Working virtually with colleagues from different operations and time zones called for co-ordination, creativity and flexibility. Fortunately, the technology has made virtual interactions possible. In fact, in the end, I felt like I had met my teammates in person. ”

Another learner, Pride Chifodya (UNHCR, Zimbabwe), noted: “The impact of the programme can be measured in the current way I perform my duties contributing to the lives of refugees and asylum seekers. There has been a great change in my personal attitude and in my application of critical components learned during my studies. I now look forward to more challenging opportunities.”

Cybersecurity for teachers

Over 1,500 participants from 63 countries, including 44 Commonwealth nations, joined COL’s new MOOC Cybersecurity Training for Teachers. The course was developed in response to the recent shift by education institutions towards distance education and digital learning technologies and underscored the importance of online safety for teachers and learners. The course targeted primary and secondary school teachers as well as other education practitioners currently implementing online or blended learning in their institutions. This MOOC is the first of a two-part series on cybersecurity and is a prerequisite for the Advanced Cybersecurity Training for Teachers course, to be offered at a later date.

Designing and developing online assessments

A new COL course on Designing and Developing Online Assessments, offered via the Virtual University for Small States of the Commonwealth Moodle platform, brought together learners from 14 Commonwealth countries. They were familiarised with the unique factors to consider when preparing assessment tasks for the online environment. The course provided learners with an opportunity to design and develop assessment tasks suitable for courses they currently teach or expect to teach online.

JL4D seeks contributions 

Contributions are invited for the Journal of Learning for Development, which focuses on innovations in learning — in particular, but not exclusively, open and distance learning and its role in development. Contributions can take the form of research articles, case studies, commentaries and reports from the field. Please visit the journal’s website ( for more details and to submit work.



Distance and flexible learning for TVET, Kenya

COL is assisting Technical and Vocational Education and Training (TVET) Directorate of Kenya’s Ministry of Education to respond to challenges caused by COVID-19. Following the closure of TVET institutions earlier this year, the ministry developed a comprehensive plan to scale distance and flexible learning in TVET. A first step was to establish COL’s long- term partner, the Kenya Technical Trainers College (KTTC), as a national centre for open, distance and eLearning. COL assisted KTTC with setting up a learning management system and provided open educational resources through which KTTC can build TVET teachers’ capability in online learning.

CEMCA trains Maldives teachers

The Commonwealth Educational Media Centre for Asia, in partnership with the National Institute of Education, Maldives, organised a virtual three-day teacher capacity-building workshop for 560 participants, including teacher educators. Dr Abdulla Rasheed Ahmed, Minister of State for Education, Maldives inaugurated the workshop, and the programme included a presentation on Instructional Design for Online Learning, as well as sessions on the use of Internet-based tools for content development and collaboration and on using a learning management system.

Support for teacher development in Sierra Leone

There has been an increased focus on continuous professional development (CPD) of teachers due to COVID-19 to ensure they have the skills and competencies to respond to educational disruptions. In partnership with the Sierra Leone Teaching Service Commission, COL organised a workshop to formulate a national CPD framework and guidelines.

The training brought together 50 educators and representatives from local and international organisations, including the World Bank, officials from the Ministry of Basic and Senior Secondary Education and the Ministry of Technical and Higher Education, as well as representatives from teacher training institutions and non-governmental organisations. As a result of this workshop, guidelines for in-service training providers and an activity plan for national CPD delivery in Sierra Leone were developed.

Open schooling for eSwatini

COL is helping the Emlalatini Development Centre (EDC) in eSwatini achieve its vision to be amongst the leading open and distance learning institutions of choice in the Southern African Development Community by the year 2022. 

With COL’s support, key features of an online and blended learning model based on the use of open educational resources (OER) have been identified. This will help EDC effectively meet the needs of its stakeholders. COL has also facilitated a review of suitable digital platforms and subsequent online training for EDC staff on the use of OER. It is now providing support to EDC content developers to ensure that curriculum-based content is shared as OER.

Employability strategy for Copperbelt University

COL supported the development of a policy and strategy on employability at universities in Africa, most recently at Copperbelt University (CBU) in Zambia. As part of a comprehensive project, the university management and academic staff reviewed ways to adopt COL’s Toolkit for Key Employability Indicators for National Qualification Agencies and worked on an institutional employability scorecard, as well as validation of the policy and strategy. CBU identified ways to embed the employability attributes in the BA programme at its School of Business Studies.

Promoting inclusion in Mauritius

As part of its work to promote disability inclusion and equality, COL is developing short online courses for service workers, teachers and volunteers who work with persons with disabilities (PWD), with the Global Rainbow Foundation, Mauritius. The first course, Introduction to Disability Needs Assessments and Assistive Technologies, brought together 42 teachers and disability practitioners from institutions across Mauritius, including three PWD. At the end of the 12-week course, participants were able to select and use appropriate and accessible technologies to help PWD overcome specific barriers in education and workplace settings.

Skills training for vulnerable women, Malawi

With COL’s support, 225 vulnerable women and girls from the Mchinji District of Malawi have acquired valuable skills for sustainable livelihoods. They have benefited from training in shoemaking as part of the Lifelong Learning for Mothers (L3M) project administered by the Concerned Youth Organisation. L3M has targeted mothers and out-of-school girls to equip them with vocational as well as business management skills, and raise their awareness about gender equality, thereby addressing local cultural norms. Through project activities, local community women have been connected to micro-finance institutions and markets for their products.

Nurses and midwives in Seychelles trained for better care 

COL has partnered with the Seychelles Nurses and Midwives Council to provide online, context-specific continuing professional development for nurses and midwives via a platform of the World Continuing Education Alliance. The eLearning modules aim to strengthen nursing and midwifery competencies and promote the delivery of better health care to patients in Seychelles. Close to 500 nurses and midwives have already completed an average of eight courses each, gaining extra skills and higher levels of competencies. This will enable them to improve the quality of health services delivered to patients in Seychelles. 

Supporting Nigerian universities to go dual-mode

COL and the Regional Training and Research Institute for Distance and Open Learning (RETRIDOL) continue to support Nigerian university partners that are seeking accreditation by the National Universities Commission to operate as dual-mode universities. A series of visits to the institutions involved in the project aimed to respond to their needs in regard to accreditation requirements. The RETRIDOL team toured the University of Ilorin, as well as Afe Babalola University and the University of Port Harcourt. As they move toward accreditation, these institutions expect to address the needs of the hundreds of thousands of learners denied enrolment annually as a result of space constraints in conventional institutions across the country. 

Building SADC capacity to use technology in open schooling

In partnership with its regional centre in Botswana, the Southern African Development Community Centre for Distance Education (SADC-CDE), COL delivered a webinar series entitled Learning Design for Online Course Provision for Open Schooling. Forty participants from the Namibian College of Open Learning, Botswana Open University, the Lesotho Distance Teaching Centre and the Tanzanian Institute of Adult Education benefited from the training, which aimed to augment the capacity of these institutions to offer courses using technology-enabled learning. The series covered blended learning pedagogy, developing OER, and designing interaction and engagement. The acquired knowledge will help these institutions reach thousands of learners in their respective countries through open schooling initiatives. Participants developed action plans, with implementation to be supported by COL and SADC-CDE. 



Boosting employability for women in Pakistan

Earlier this year, the Fatima Jinnah Women University (FJWU) joined the COL-led International Partnership of Distance and Online Learning for COVID-19, gaining access to shared learning resources and tools, free training and capacity building. In the framework of this collaboration, close to 600 FJWU students and graduates have benefited from free online courses under the COL–Coursera Workforce Recovery Initiative.

This is what some of them said:

Areeba Toor: “An invaluable experience with excellent content.”

Gulnoor Butt: “The best eLearning platform, beneficial for me to learn.”

Javeriya Yasin: “The skills I learned have encouraged me to grow professionally.”

Hina Fatima: “All of the courses have been taught in a way that is easy to understand.”

Professional development for school principals, Sri Lanka

In collaboration with the Sri Lanka Ministry of Education, COL is supporting the country’s School-Based Professional Teacher Development programme (SBTD). A workshop for principals representing 15 national and provincial pilot schools provided an introduction to the programme content and learning activities, as well as the evolving Teacher Competency Framework. The principals will be leading the SBTD programme in their schools, where a community of practice will involve teacher learning on subject knowledge, pedagogic practices, assessment and inclusion, among other components.

Women with disabilities gain agency in Sri Lanka

COL’s GIRLS Inspire provides safe learning spaces to women and girls with disabilities in hard-to-reach places while improving their skills and self-esteem. In Sri Lanka, COL’s partner the Women’s Development Centre has offered women like Susila (in the picture) shelter, psychosocial support and an opportunity to become a contributing member of society. Susila, who was born with a disability and had been unable to access formal education, has started her own sales outlet with assistance from GIRLS Inspire. It has become a profitable business, and Susila finds the greatest happiness in being able to support her family.

COL joins forces with EdBank to train 100,000 teachers in India

COL has partnered with ScooNews | EdBank to help 100,000 teachers in India rethink their classroom practices and prepare for educational disruptions similar to those caused by COVID-19. A series of masterclasses on topics ranging from technology and blended learning to curriculum and assessment, leadership and well-being are on offer. Education stakeholders include teachers, subject-matter experts, support staff, heads of departments and school leaders. As Knowledge Partner, COL will offer advisory and quality assurance guidance, as well as access to additional teacher training resources, platforms and expertise.

Capacity building for Virtual University of Pakistan 

CEMCA has assisted the Virtual University of Pakistan with building staff capacity in the use of open educational resources (OER). A virtual workshop on Adoption of Open Educational Resources focused on the concepts of OER, copyright and open licensing, as well as finding, evaluating and adapting OER. Special sessions featured CEMCA’s work in promoting the use of OER across the Commonwealth Asian countries and the use of open courseware in Pakistan. The workshop also included hands-on activities. Participants noted the importance of OER for distance education, especially in overcoming the dearth of educational resources.

Biorisk management MOOC

With support from COL, the Universiti Malaysia Sabah (UMS) organised a MOOC on Introduction to Biorisk Management. The five-week course covered risk assessment, risk mitigation and performance assessment of biorisk management agencies. The course, which brought together 950 learners, was offered as a pilot project to build UMS’s capacity to offer MOOCs using mooKIT, an open-source software. 



Over 8,000 teachers trained in Trinidad and Tobago

At the request of the Ministry of Education in Trinidad and Tobago, COL offered the course OER for Online Learning to over 8,000 teachers to develop their capacity in online and blended learning. Designed to support teachers during school closures caused by COVID-19, the course offers guidelines on scaffolding the independent use of existing prescribed resources and supplementing them with open educational resources. It also focuses on ways to use technology to support communication and learning as well as assessment and feedback. The course enables teachers to provide effective pedagogical support to learners in preparation for their return to school and helps build a community where they can share new ideas as they reconnect with colleagues. The ministry has opted to use the course as the springboard for internal in-service training of teachers in technology-enabled learning.

Impact of the pandemic on international higher education

Professor Asha Kanwar participated in a virtual event co-hosted by The Globe and Mail, Canada’s leading newspaper, and Athabasca University. She spoke about the need for universities to diversify their business models to withstand the negative impacts of the pandemic. Professor Kanwar also noted the importance of strengthening national and international partnerships through initiatives such as twinning arrangements and branch campuses, as a way for Canadian institutions to establish their presence in other countries. You can watch the video recording here.

New learning platform for Caribbean Tourism Organisation 

COL’s Virtual University for Small States of the Commonwealth is supporting the Caribbean Tourism Organisation (CTO) to increase access to skills training in key areas related to tourism and sustainability. A Moodle installation made available to CTO will facilitate the development of online courses on the Caribbean Sustainable Tourism Policy and Development Framework, and the Multi-Hazard Risk Management Guide for the Tourism Sector. 



Digital literacy for educators

In partnership with the Commonwealth Centre for Connected Learning, in Malta, and Dilectae, COL organised a six-week MOOC titled Digital Literacy Lab for Educators. Centred on augmenting educators’ knowledge of digital literacy, the course attracted close to 1,600 participants from 48 Commonwealth Member States. Among the course highlights were three webinars covering digital literacy, netizenship, as well as the opportunities and challenges we face as digital citizens. Given learner interest in the course, a second MOOC on digital literacy is slated for December 2020.

Blockchain in education

In partnership with the Commonwealth Centre for Connected Learning and the University of Malta, COL organised a four-part webinar series on Blockchain in Education. which brought together participants from 15 Commonwealth Member States. Topics included digital credentials, game research and education, micro-accreditation, e-portfolios and peer accreditation.



Upskilling tradespersons in Tuvalu

Tuvalu Atoll Science, Technology and Training Institute (TASTTI) has been using COL’s basic trades training open educational resources to offer a programme with five training modules covering literacy, numeracy, painting, working with timber and working with concrete. More than 120 people have already graduated from the programme, and close to 70 persons are currently enrolled. COL is also working with TASTTI to build staff capacity in using a blend of distance and workplace learning to train local tradespersons in building and construction, so that Tuvalu’s Public Works Department is better equipped to build and maintain the country’s physical infrastructure.

Enhancing technology capacities in the Pacific

COL has been contributing to the systematic implementation of TEL in the Pacific. Assistance provided to Fiji National University and the University of Papua New Guinea has helped strengthen their institutional capacities to design and deliver blended courses. The universities have now developed 18 blended courses each for over 3,000 learners. Previously, COL has supported the National University of Samoa to build capacity in technology-enabled learning. 




Top 4 - Principles for Inclusive Teaching

In education, using assistive technology creates an inclusive environment to accommodate the different ways students assimilate information and learn. The following are key principles to consider when adopting an inclusive approach to teaching and learning and ensuring that teaching materials and teaching styles are accessible and effective for all:

1. Assess the whole group of learners to determine accessibility needs

It is advisable to start by reviewing all the learners and listing the range of needs they have.

2. Define general steps that can help learners

There may be simple actions that can be taken to increase overall inclusion, such as simplifying the lesson content, producing enlarged worksheets, showing learners how to select “reader mode” on a computer or tablet, or using mind-mapping before writing an essay.

3. Identify specific needs where specialised assistive technology is required

Teachers should consider whether learners can gain information from print-based educational materials used across the curriculum, need materials in a specialised format, or need modified content or alternative materials.

4. Choose assistive technology to meet needs

Having created a list of needs for individual learners and across the cohort, the teacher can select and use appropriate techniques and/or assistive technology.
Based on Assistive Technologies: Inclusive Teaching Guidelines for Educators.


For more details, visit:





Skills for better livelihoods

ICT for youth employability in Uganda

Overworked and underpaid, Robert Kaggo from Kampala, Uganda was looking for a way to gain new skills and boost his self-esteem. Joining a programme offered by the youth-based organisation Kampabits in partnership with COL provided the necessary solution. Through the ICT for Youth Employability programme, vulnerable and unemployed youths were able to access new training opportunities.

Using COL’s open-source tools and open educational resources, Kampabits recently skilled and re-skilled 63 young Ugandans, including Robert, and linked them to new employment opportunities. Even COVID-19 was no barrier, as remote internships were provided to several trainees.

During the programme, Robert learned advanced graphics and web design and gained his first client even before completing the training. He has now started an advertising company where he designs company logos and websites.

Pakistani woman breaks down disability barriers

Madhia is a 25-year-old from Pakistan who comes from an underprivileged family and has a physical disability caused by polio. She has always wanted to get an education, but her father, a daily wage labourer, could not support her dreams. It was through a friend that Madhia learned about life-changing opportunities offered by COL’s GIRLS Inspire initiative. COL is empowering women and girls by creating awareness about their human rights while providing skills training. Madhia successfully completed courses in dressmaking and in basic life-skills education. She praises the programme for helping her break down barriers and gain financial independence. She has opened a dressmaking centre in her home, and the Society for the Protection of the Rights of the Child has facilitated her gaining a loan from Akhuwat Foundation to support her business venture.

Young woman from PNG now able to support family

Michelle Ima is a young woman from Papagogo, a remote village in Papua New Guinea. Together with her five siblings, she was abandoned as a child and left to fend for herself. A recent training programme facilitated by the Servants of Saint Joseph with support from COL equipped her with essential livelihood skills. Michelle has completed a cooking programme and is planning to start baking cakes and doughnuts and cooking vegetable fritters to generate income for her family.  In the framework of this partnership, COL plans to upskill over 150 women.

Lack of formal education is no barrier to Ghanaian farmer

Bonga Salifu is a sorghum farmer from Garu District in Ghana, with a family of 17, including 15 children, in his care. He has always looked for ways to improve their quality of life, but with no formal education, finding new opportunities was not easy. COL’s Lifelong Learning for Farmers (L3F) programme offered both comprehensive solutions and simple ways to implement them. Every week, Mr Salifu receives tips via his mobile phone on various aspects of sorghum production, including selecting appropriate sites, preparing land for planting, choosing seeds, as well as weed and disease control and post-harvest management. He has also benefited from training in financial literacy. COL’s L3F integrates social, financial and human capital development. “I wish this training were extended to more farmers,” says Mr Salifu, who shares useful information with fellow farmers after each training session. He now has better sorghum production and enjoys an improved livelihood. 

A window of opportunity for a young Guyanese

Indrawattie Natram is 29 years old and comes from the rural agricultural region of Pomeroon-Supenaam in Guyana. There is no established university nearby for her to continue studying, and Indrawattie cannot afford to leave her community to acquire a university degree. She gained access to free online courses taught by highly reputed professors and instructors from top universities and companies around the world by enrolling in the COL–Coursera Workforce Recovery Initiative. “The free courses have opened a window of opportunities for me. It’s the best way I can invest my time, especially during the pandemic,” says Indrawattie. She has already completed over a dozen courses, and her aim is to finish 25 courses in the fields of journalism, psychology, human resources, and project management by the end of the year. Indrawattie calls the experiences she has gained from these courses “life-changing,” noting that she was able to boost her employability from the comfort of her home. She has motivated other young Guyanese to join the initiative to further empower themselves by gaining certificates of course completion.

Building the digital skills of Indian weavers

G. Rajeswari lives with her husband in a popular weaver cluster in Andhra Pradesh, India. The craft, which has been passed down from her ancestors, is the family’s primary source of income. However, the business took a serious hit during the COVID-19 lockdown, as it has traditionally depended on bulk orders from middlemen and brokers. With support from COL and the Digital Empowerment Foundation, Mrs Rajeswari enrolled in digital skills training, which sharpened her understanding of business activities and enabled her to adopt tools for digital transformation. She was able to build new skills to meet her current challenges. She says, “We were unemployed for weeks amid the lockdown and were using our savings. I learned how to optimise my phone’s camera to make a portfolio, use my Internet connection to create social media pages and other apps, and find information on government schemes for weavers. This gave me the power to reach out to customers directly and increase my livelihood.”





The University of the West Indies (UWI) Open Campus opens doors to learners

Contributed by Dr Luz Longsworth, Dr Cleveland Sam and Ms Melissa Alleyne* 

"...the Open Campus learners are likely working mothers with responsibilities that cannot be ignored."

Arlene Ford** is a deputy principal at a primary school in Kingstown, St Vincent and the Grenadines. Single mother of two and caring for a niece, she is in her mid-40s and holds a bachelor’s degree and a Master’s of Education. She is the main breadwinner for her household. Sounds like a very accomplished mid-career woman, right? But Arlene wants more. She wants to pursue a doctorate, but apart from offshore medical colleges, there is no university in St Vincent. She cannot leave her dependents with family and cannot afford to relocate with them. These facts won’t stop her, though; she did her research and selected The UWI Open Campus (OC) as her university of choice. Why? Because it allows her to fulfil her goals within the constrictions of her circumstances. She can study with the Caribbean’s most prestigious university without leaving her family, her job or her country. Her situation is not dissimilar to many Caribbean learners who yearn for further education but are constrained by various factors, whether economic, social or professional. Happily, they have found an open door to opportunity in the OC.

About 80% of learners in the Open Campus are women, and more than 50% are over 30 years old. This means the large majority of the OC’s learners are likely working mothers with responsibilities that cannot be ignored. For many learners, attending a brick-and-mortar campus full-time for faceto-face classes is impossible, and the OC caters specifically for these learners. The OC offers courses and programmes ranging from continuing and professional education to undergraduate and postgraduate, via distance, blended, online and face-to-face modalities. This flexibility allows those who would otherwise have had to forgo continuing their education the opportunity to carry on. In addition, the OC offers different entry points that permit learners who do not meet normal matriculation requirements to start at a point that best suits them.

As the world grapples with the COVID-19 pandemic, the OC has become even more creative and innovative in how it opens doors using modern information and communication technology. The campus is perfectly positioned to offer much-needed assistance to regional education stakeholders who are identifying alternative ways of providing continuing education. The campus led a series of six-hour professional development training sessions for stakeholders in several Caribbean states, focusing on topics relating to online content delivery and student engagement in the online environment. Participants included community college academic staff, primary and secondary school teachers, principals, and education and curriculum officers from ministries of education.

The OC’s online forum, entitled “Online Delivery: The Lifeblood of Education in the COVID-19 Pandemic,” is one example of its long-standing relationship with the Commonwealth of Learning (COL). Professor Asha Kanwar was a member of the forum’s panel. The Open Campus (and its predecessor, the UWI Distance Education Centre) has partnered with COL for decades, enjoying a shared vision and mission of ensuring that online and distance learning is foregrounded as a developmental tool for the Caribbean.

The partnership has included hosting the Fourth Pan-Commonwealth Forum in Jamaica in 2006, and many collaborative projects, such as the development of the BSc in Youth Development Work as an open educational resource. Most recently, we participated in joint initiatives to support our communities during the COVID crisis, including participation in the COL-led International Partnership of Distance and Online Learning for COVID-19, and the CommonwealthWiseWomen mentorship programme, in which Principal Longsworth serves as a mentor. The OC is proud of its successes in providing various paths for learners to fulfil their educational goals, opening doors that may have remained shut against those whose circumstances could have prevented their advancement through traditional educational channels.

* Dr Luz Longsworth is the Pro Vice-Principal of The UWI Open Campus and a COL Honorary Fellow. Dr Cleveland Sam is the Marketing and Communications Manager at The UWI Open Campus, and Ms Melissa Alleyne is a planning officer in the Office of Planning and Institutional Research, UWI Open Campus.
** Not her real name.






Preparing children for their future, not our past

Contributed by Sugata Mitra* Professor Emeritus, NIIT University, Neemrana, Rajasthan, India

“Is the teaching profession as we know it headed for obsolescence?"

Children, given access to the Internet in groups, can come to know anything by themselves. However, “knowing” may no longer be as important as it used to be.

I knew nothing of this when, in 1999, I did an experiment to find out whether children who knew nothing of computers or the Internet, and had almost no English, would make any sense of a digital environment. A computer was embedded in a wall of a slum, like a crude do-it-yourself ATM. The press called it “The Hole in the Wall.”

The results are well known now. Within a couple of weeks, the children had learned to use the Internet and to download and play games. After a month, they had learned how to do searches and answer questions.

My research colleagues and I repeated the experiment many times in the slums and villages of India. The results were always the same: digital literacy out of nowhere.

It became clear that children in groups have an understanding that is greater than that of each individual. It was this collective “hive mind” that was working, like an efficient teacher. I had seen nothing like this before, and it took me years to realise that what we were witnessing was an example of a self-organising system, where spontaneous order appears out of nowhere.

I brought the results to England in 2006. There, the Hole in the Wall transformed itself into Self-Organised Learning Environments (SOLEs). Children would cluster around a few computers to answer a question. The framing of this question was important. It needed to be interesting. For example, instead of “What is photosynthesis?” the question was “Why are leaves green?” We called these “big questions.” There were only a few computers, as it was the clustering that let self-organisation happen.

Significant improvements happened in English reading comprehension, conversation skills, self-confidence and, of course, Internet usage and searching skills.

So is the teaching profession as we know it headed for obsolescence?

The teaching profession caters to an examination system that was created to serve the needs of another time. This examination system requires learners to answer questions on paper, using handwriting. The learner must be alone and not in communication with anyone. The learner must not use any assistive technology other than a pencil, and perhaps a ruler — 19th-century technology.

To cater to the needs of such examination systems, teachers, good or bad, need to use teaching methods from the 19th century, consisting of rote learning, drills, practice and negative reinforcement.

After the school years, when erstwhile learners enter the real world, they are expected to solve problems using the Internet, to collaborate with others while solving problems, to type rather than write by hand, to use calculators and not their minds to calculate, to use spell checkers and grammar checkers while typing, and so on. In other words, learners are asked to do the opposite of what they did in school.

Examinations need to be changed to include collaborative problem solving using assistive technology. If this is done, teachers will be free to enable learning in novel ways. This has to happen. There is a generation that uses assistive technology, particularly smartphones, all the time, except when they are in school. They learn continuously from these devices.

There is powerful resistance to these ideas. The resistance comes from an older generation with a subconscious desire to return to the 1920s, a time they believe was the best the world ever had. The examination system is obsolete, and so are the teachers who are forced to cater to it.

Fortunately, teachers understand this. Since 2014, teachers in all five continents have been making SOLEs in their schools. I have lost count of how many there are. Collectively, they are changing the nature of education.

When automobiles took over from horse-drawn carriages, the coachmen went away, and the passengers became the drivers. Eventually, cars will drive themselves, and driving will become an obsolete skill. A child 20 years from now will ask, “What does ‘driving’ mean?” When the Internet takes over from “taught” schools, learners will become their own teachers. But only for a while, until the immense network drives all learning and makes “knowing” itself obsolete.

A child 20 years from now may well ask, “What does ‘knowing’ mean?”

*Formerly Professor of Educational Technology at Newcastle University in the UK. He was awarded the first-ever one-million-dollar TED Prize in 2013. More details are available at




COL welcomes new board members

DR CAROLINE SEELIG, Chief Executive Officer, Open Polytechnic of New Zealand, has been appointed as the New Zealand representative to the Board of Governors. She was named COL Honorary Fellow at PCF7 in 2013.

DR JOANNA NEWMAN, Chief Executive and Secretary-General, The Association of Commonwealth Universities, is the Commonwealth Secretary-General’s nominated member to the Board. She has been an Advisor to the Board since 2017.

Remembering Dr Umar

DR ABDURRAHMAN UMAR, who had recently been appointed as Nigeria’s representative to COL's Board of Governors, passed away on July 21. As a former colleague, Dr Umar will be dearly missed by all of us who had the privilege of working with him.




Technology-Enabled Learning: Policy, Pedagogy and Practice

This new resource aims to help policy makers and education leaders rethink existing models of education and training for the post-COVID-19 world. The book showcases some of the most successful examples of developing policy, improving pedagogy and supporting institutional practice. The key recommendation is to mainstream TEL to develop resilient education systems that can cope with sudden disasters. 

Strategies for Blended TVET in Response to COVID-19

Due to COVID-19, there is increasing pressure on governments, educational institutions, workplaces and community groups to adopt distance and online learning to ensure the continuity and upscaling of skills development while keeping communities safe. This new publication outlines the benefits and challenges of blended TVET and introduces post-COVID-19 models and strategies. 

Inclusive Design for Learning: Creating Flexible and Adaptable Content with Learners

Globally, children with disabilities are disadvantaged in the school environment. They are also disproportionately represented among out-of-school children. COL’s new publication provides a means to address this crisis of exclusion of persons with identified and unidentified disabilities. 

Assistive Technologies: Inclusive Teaching Guidelines for Educators

This guide describes how educators can use assistive technologies to promote an inclusive environment that accommodates the different ways learners assimilate information and learn. It introduces them to a range of assistive technologies that address individual learners’ needs and help them overcome the barriers they face. 

Quality Assurance Rubric for Blended Learning

The purpose of the Rubric is to guide an institution, faculty or individual lecturer in developing quality blended learning courses. The publication provides a comprehensive tool organised under eight categories for users to ascertain how a given course benchmarks against these established criteria. 




Will XR be the trendy new kid on the block of education?

“News media, entertainment and the education industry could capitalise on XRs by using them to generate empathy through immersive storytelling.”

Extended reality technologies (XRs), encompassing augmented and virtual reality (AR and VR), leverage and extend human sensory and cognitive experiences in the direction of a “new normal” in learning. Although we may still have some way to go before XRs are used to achieve educational goals, with advances in technology and interest from individual entrepreneurs, those days are not far off.

A case in point is a Google Expeditions initiative that involved teams travelling around UK schools, providing teachers with the ability to incorporate virtual expeditions as part of their curricula. Using apps, they brought 3D holographic information into classrooms and gave students the experience of seeing their teachers, who were at home, in holographic form. While virtual campus tours for prospective students are becoming popular during the COVID-19 pandemic, education institutions have been starting to create lab experiences, online workshops and Q&A sessions, and are even running their classes virtually. Although many of these virtual classrooms currently report low retention rates, various experiments around the world indicate the likelihood that with XRs, we will experience faster learning, enhanced retention, better critical thinking and improved decision taking.

The emergence of short-term AR/VR development courses would enable many young people to gain enough knowledge and skills to create fully functional VR content within three months, paving the way for an XR equivalent of YouTube. Hence, strategic moves by educational institutions to create AR/VR assets as open educational resources (OER) and to build their capacity to share and adapt those assets are considerations for the future of open and innovative education. The education community would need to set up studios and labs for the rapid production of AR/VR assets as OER, while also collaborating with industry to design headsets conducive to exploratory learning based on hand-eye co-ordination. We also need studies that examine the effects of these technologies on children’s developing brains. In a range of ways, XR technologies can benefit persons with disabilities, including the elderly and children with special needs. Using XRs, ongoing experiments combining simultaneous localisation and mapping, GPS systems and depth cameras prove helpful to the visually impaired to explore their environments, allowing for experiential learning.

XR technologies have the potential to disrupt physical travel by becoming the primary platform for communication, offering immersive experiences through digital teleportation. News media, entertainment and the education industry could capitalise on XRs by using them to generate empathy through immersive storytelling, and to spur awareness about critical issues. We may witness experiments in non-linear and non-narrative storytelling, teleporting viewers beyond the limitations of language, space and time. Using artificial intelligence not only could recreate the instructor/tutor but also could translate their words into other languages while retaining a preferred natural tone. Learners could pinch, zoom and rotate 3D holograms and AR/VR objects to gain a richer learning experience while receiving detailed explanations of models and course materials.

The question is: Will the centuries-old chalk, blackboard, pen, paper, printed text and closed walls of classrooms at last evolve into a learning experience that opens learners’ imaginations beyond anyone’s comprehension? It likely will take the better part of this new decade to create scalable AR/VR content and broaden access to these XRs so they can be used in education. A world of possibilities lies ahead! The point is to leave no one behind.