Kanwar, A. (2013) Celebrating COL’s 25th Anniversary Vancouver: Commonwealth of Learning
I had the privilege of attending COL’s Board of Governors Reception at its headquarters in Vancouver on June 13 to celebrate the organization’s 25 years of existence.
The Commonwealth of Learning has much to be proud of. It is an institution with 54 countries as partner institutions and operates currently in 47 of these countries,. While some partner countries are large, such as the U.K., Canada, Australia, India and Nigeria, others are tiny island states.
Given its mandate to support open and distance learning across the Commonwealth, CoL operates on a tiny budget of about $10 million, most of which comes from relatively small donations from many of the partner countries. The Canadian Federal government and the Province of British Columbia provide in kind funding, such as funding CoL’s offices in downtown Vancouver. (It is the only Commonwealth organization located outside London, UK).
Just three of the many major projects that CoL has helped develop are:
- Virtual University for the Small States of the Commonwealth (VUSSC): a consortium of small, mainly island states that share common resources and curricula: 35 countries, budget in 2012: $360,000
- Teacher Education: providing support to ministries and institutions to harness the potential of ODL and ICT to train more teachers and enhance the quality of their training programmes. Nearly 1,000 teachers trained in Africa and the Caribbean, including nomadic teachers in Nigeria
- Lifelong Learning for Farmers program has reached large numbers of small farmers and marginalised sectors of rural communities, particularly women (68,000 farmers in 3 regions, 60% of whom are women. Mobile phones (voicemail based) are a key platform supporting learning.
As the current President, Ashar Kanwar, stated in her recent quarterly report to the Board of Governors, ‘we can see a clear progression from higher education, teacher training and secondary education in the formal education sector to non-formal and informal learning relating to skills development, agriculture and health. In short, COL has moved from formal education to the wider field of learning for development.‘
Another reason for its success is that CoL nearly always works with local partners, particularly national Ministries of Education, to ensure that its projects meet local and national needs.
Sir John Daniel, a former President of CoL, argues that One reason that CoL has an impact out of all proportion to its size, is the longevity of its engagement in its areas of focus. Compared to most international agencies, which tend to abandon their short projects just as they might begin to bear fruit, COL sticks with its partners and its programmes until they can fly with their own wings.
For a full report on CoL’s activities, see: President’s Quarterly Progress Report: April – June 2013