On the tenth anniversary of the first use of the term "BRIC", to describe the emerging economic powers of Brazil, Russia, India and China, ICDE brought together representatives of member institutions in these countries at this key event in the European education calendar. This activity falls within ICDE's remit to increase communication between developed and developing nations.
The session entitled Learning Cultures: An International Panorama covered technologies, factors supporting and hindering development, present trends, and theoretical discourse in the four countries, and was chaired by Gard Titlestad, Secretary General of ICDE, and Dietmar Kennepohl of ICDE member institution, Athabasca University, Canada.
Luciano Sathler of the Brazilian Association for Distance Education (ABED) and Universidade Anhanguera – Uniderp, Brazil presented a number of useful statistics on the growth of distance education. He noted that the percentage of students in distance education has risen from 1.4% in 2002 to to 14.6% in 2010. Almost one in six students enrolled in undergraduate studies in Brazil enters into a distance learning course. The main challenge in his country today is that of quality, he noted.
Irina Smirnova of the Moscow State University of Economics, Statistics and Informatics (MESI), Russia noted the tremendous growth in Internet use in her country, and the potential for delivery of courses by this mode. The latest statistics show that there are 50.8 million individual users over 15 years old, more than in any other European country, she said. She reported, however, on a number of challenges for distance education including a lack of ICT skills among teachers and academics, insufficient knowledge of pedagogical design issues for distance courses, and that regulations with which higher education institutions must comply are incompatible with the realities of distance learning.
Hemlata Chari of the Institute of Distance and Open Learning, University of Mumbai, India spoke of how ODL has democratized access to higher education and today there are 8.8 million students. Key challenges for India include translation and dissemination of materials, a lack of teaching staff and providing adequate assessment for large numbers of students. Information communication technologies are being used to meet some of these challenges, and at IDOL they are now integrating open educational resources, though problems of infrastructure and power shortages remain, particularly in rural areas.
Li Yawan of The Open University of China was prevented from taking part in the session due to travel issues, but contributed through a paper which was read by the co-chair. In this, she noted that there are 68 e-colleges in conventional universities today utilizing information technology to improving open and distance education delivery. Both open universities and e-colleges are focusing on quality education for both degree and non-degree programmes, and exploring the balance of scale, quality and cost. Training programmes have been developed for lifelong learning, and a good mechanism for sharing quality resources is being constructed. The key issue is to meet the demands of the social members for acquiring high quality education to ensure quality education resources distributed evenly and promote education equity and social justice.
ICDE extends grateful thanks to everyone who took part in the session, and to the representatives' home institutions for their support for the work of ICDE.
Video clips from the sessions will be made available at a later date.
8 December 2011