Promoting Learning for Sustainable Development

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Chairman, Secretary General, Honourable Ministers, Distinguished Delegates, it is an honour to present my organisation, the Commonwealth of Learning or COL to you. The purpose of my presentation is to highlight some of the main features of COL’s Strategic Plan 2015-2021, and to request you to ratify this.

As you know, COL is an intergovernmental organisation established by Commonwealth Heads of Government when they met in Vancouver for CHOGM 1987.

Our mission is to help Commonwealth member states and institutions to use existing and new technologies for expanding access to education and training.

We have given you two documents: the first is COL in the Commonwealth: Country Reports 2012-15. The complete compendium of what COL has done in each Member State is a substantial document and for that reason we have only given you printed reports relating to your country. The compendium includes summaries of pan-Commonwealth and regional work. I hope you are pleased with the results.

COL also commissioned an external evaluation of its work over the past three years, which concludes that ‘All the initiatives moved successfully forward, on time and within budget. The large majority of the agreed Performance Indicators were met.the relative cost-effectiveness of COL has been commented on favourably.’

COL, thanks to support from DFID, also commissioned an external evaluation to assess its impact over the past nine years. ‘COL has had a major impact on individuals, a , a limited impact on formal institutions and a significant impact on community based organisations but needs to do more in policy at the national level is highly respected and well regarded, flexible and nimble organisation which leverages partnerships to achieve outcomes’.

The recommendations of the two evaluations and wide consultations with your Focal Points in all four regions of the Commonwealth, helped us to identify your priorities which have been incorporated in our new Strategic Plan.

This is the second document that we have given you and is entitled ‘Learning for Sustainable Development 2015-21: our Strategic Plan for the next six years.

COL believes that learning is the key to sustainable development. Learning must lead to opportunities for economic growth, social inclusion and environmental conservation.

This aligns closely with the growing consensus around Goal 4 of the 17 SDGs identified. The standalone goal on education focuses on ensuring inclusive and equitable quality education and lifelong learning opportunities for all by 2030.

The goal has several targets: one, quality education must lead to effective learning outcomes, two, we must focus on developing skills for employment, entrepreneurship and global citizenship, and three, the need for having qualified teachers in place to achieve these targets.

As Ministers of Education, you face four challenges: first, you want to increase access to education and training for human resource development in your countries. Second, you want to improve the quality of education so that our young people have the opportunities for employment and entrepreneurship. Third, you want to include the marginalised and reach the unreached. Fourth, you want to achieve all these at the lowest costs possible.

All these challenges can be addressed by harnessing the potential of existing and new technologies. These include print, community media, radio and TV, as well as mobile and online learning systems.

Let me demonstrate this with our proposed strategic plan which is organised in two sectors: education and skills.

Let us first look at Education.

As countries achieve success in providing universal primary education, there are still significant barriers preventing many young people from entering secondary education. Open schools can provide flexible learning opportunities through the use of open and distance learning which uses a range of technologies from print to the internet. Open schooling costs well below formal secondary schools. A COL study shows that the National Institute of Open Schooling costs one tenth and the Namibian College of Open Learning costs one fifth of what it costs to put a student through government schools.

This young woman from Bangladesh says ‘I left school in year five at the age of 12. I am 22 now and have 3 children. I went back to school so that I could help my children with their schoolwork.

Well-trained teachers are critical to improving the quality of education. Conventional teacher education methods cannot cope with the demand.

In April this year, COL organised a training for teacher educators from 11 African countries in ICT integration in collaboration with the NIE, Singapore.

COL will use a range of technologies including MOOCs, as we have done with the African Virtual University, to train and retrain teachers. As you introduce tablets in your classrooms, teachers will need to be trained at scale to integrate the effective use of ICTs into their teaching practice. MOOCs can be a cost-effective option of achieving this.

Improving access to quality Higher Education continues to remain a priority for you. Studies show that open universities cost about one third of what it takes to put a learner through a campus institution and that there is no significant difference between the outcomes achieved through either provision.

COL’s Commonwealth Executive MBA/MPA programme is offered in 11 Commonwealth countries and the over 27000 graduates have improved access to livelihoods opportunities.

Commonwealth Ministers of Education directed COL to establish a Virtual University for the small states. All 31 small states are on board, as is Sierra Leone, and have collaboratively developed several skills-based elearning courses which are freely available as Open Education Resources or OER.

Here is Marcia Musgrove from our host country, Bahamas who benefitted initially from a VUSSC course and went on to do a masters degree – she calls it the VUSSC snowball effect in the tropics! COL intends to scale the snowball effect to cover the entire Commonwealth!

The second sector of COL’s work, Skills, makes an equally important contribution to learning for sustainable development.

As you try to tackle the issue of youth unemployment, COL uses technologies such as videos to promote skills development. Skills training can cost up to 14 times more than an academic course. COL promotes blended learning – which is distance learning and face to face practicals – for a more cost-effective approach.

Here is Rehana Khatun from Bangladesh who started a poultry farming enterprise as a consequence of this training.

Millions of farm families do not have access to learning in developing countries. COL offers a new approach called the Lifelong Learning for Farmers, or L3F. COL catalyses the links between the civil society, experts and financial institutions to develop multi-media based learning.

Research shows that for every dollar invested, income and assets worth $9 have been generated among these farmers in India, who became lifelong learners using basic mobile phones.

We get many requests for help in introducing technology enabled learning. We promote the use of technologies that are available, affordable and accessible.

Here are the graduands of the Commonwealth Certificate in Teacher ICT Integration in Antigua and Barbuda.

COL recognises that the achievement of gender equality is central to its agenda of learning for sustainable development. COL will continue to harness technologies as it works with you to expand access to learning opportunities for girls/women and boys/men, where they are most disadvantaged.

Here is a picture of a gender awareness workshop for farmers and extension officers in Jamaica. That, in brief, Honourable Ministers in COL’s programme.

COL is your organisation and it works for you. It is small and flexible and can respond readily to your needs. COL is a source of world class expertise in open distance and technology based approaches and in these times of economic difficulty, these approaches will become more important than ever before.

On behalf of our Board of Governors and staff, I request you to ratify our Strategic Plan, Learning for Sustainable Development 2015-21.

With that let me thank you for your contributions, both financial and intellectual, and for your kind attention.

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