24th ICDE World Conference media release

The power of education to transform lives - access, investment and development.

The International Council for Open and Distance Education (ICDE) held its 24th biennial world conference in collaboration with The Open University (Universitas Terbuka), Indonesia from 2-5 October 2011. The conference, which looked at new approaches to learning, took place on the island of Bali and was attended by over 600 delegates representing 49 countries.


The International Council for Open and Distance Education (ICDE) is a network of educational institutions and associations worldwide. The organization enjoys formal consultative relations with UNESCO and works to promote open and distance learning, and provide opportunities for exchange of educational best practice between countries and regions.

The importance of creative solutions for education

In opening the conference, the Minister of National Education of the Republic of Indonesia Muhammad Nuh praised Universitas Terbuka for its work in overcoming challenges in the provision of access to education: “We have to be creative – open and distance learning has to be used as widely as possible to narrow social gaps”.

A personal story about educational opportunity

Hal Plotkin, Senior Policy Advisor in the Office of the Under Secretary of Education, United States Department of Education drew on his own life story to highlight the opportunity that distance education can bring to underprivileged sections of society. On the verge of losing the family home, 17-year-old Plotkin left high school to work as a waiter until a newspaper article about school dropouts provoked him to write a reply, the beginning of a career as a writer and journalist. His formal education came through the US community college system which has no requirements for previous formal education: “Only 5% have real opportunities to enter higher education and among the other 95% could be geniuses capable of finding the cure for diabetes and solutions to the world’s economic challenges – open education is the only tool to unlock talent and capacity and to extend economic growth”.

Investments in access to education

Plotkin reported on massive investments in open education being made by the Obama administration in the United States through the federal Online Skills Laboratory, an initiative to build open resources for learning. The Trade Adjustment Assistance Community College and Career Training Grant Program (TAACCCT) will invest $2 billion over the next four years in initiatives including free to access materials.

Keynote speaker Duk Hoon Kwak of the Korea Educational Broadcasting System (EBS), a public television network dedicated to lifelong public education noted similar investments planned in Korea for 2012-2015. All Korean students will be provided with digital textbooks by the end of this period.

Access challenges in developing countries

Onno W Purbo an IT evangelist from Indonesia spoke of how 6 million children enter school annually, but only 600,000 graduate from higher education. While learning materials are ever more freely available, the predominance of English language creates barriers, though Google translate is widely used. Students and teachers use USB memory drives to overcome the problems of slow internet connection, while kitchen utensils are used to extend the range of Wi-Fi hotspots.

From a Brazilian perspective, Stavros Xanthopoylos spoke of the challenges to creating and distributing free educational content when quality education is only available through private universities and colleges: “the value chain is based on profit and this goes against what they are about”.

Academic perspectives

Lawrence Lessig, lawyer, activist and founder of Creative Commons, an initiative to provide certificates for the licensing of scientific and educational materials spoke passionately about the injustices of commercial scientific publishing which restricts access to knowledge to the most privileged: “copyright is 18th century rules in a 21st century world”.

Respected academics working with open educational resources including Gráinne Conole from the University of Leicester, UK, and Rory McGreal from Athabasca University, Canada spoke on the role of technology in learning. McGreal advised colleagues to create educational materials for mobile devices first: “a third of the world’s population can only access the Internet from mobile devices”.

Conference website: www.ut.ac.id/icde2011

For information about the International Council for Open and Distance Education (ICDE): www.icde.org/en/about

Contact: Gard Titlestad, Secretary General, ICDE, Mobile: +47 48 10 80 96, titlestad@icde.org

 Bali, Indonesia, 7 October 2011

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