ICDE 80th Anniversary: Message from Prof. Asha Kanwar, President and CEO of Commonwealth of Learning


The International Council for Open and Distance Education (ICDE) and the Commonwealth of Learning (COL) are celebrating their anniversaries—ICDE is 80 and COL has completed 30 years of service to the Commonwealth. COL and ICDE have several things in common—let me just highlight three: one, both the organisations were founded in the city of Vancouver, Canada; two, both organisations promote access to quality education through the use of distance online and flexible learning; and three, both organisations have constantly reinvented themselves to stay relevant to the needs of stakeholders.

From the early days of correspondence education, when ICDE was ICCE, (International Council for Correspondence Education), the organization has seen a sea change in the growth and development of distance education. The phenomenal growth of technologies has led to a range of innovations, including web-based learning, mobile learning, blended learning, open educational resources (OER) and massive open online courses (MOOC), which have had varying degrees of impact on distance education. The foundations laid by giants such as Charles Wedemeyer, Otto Peters, Desmond Keegan, Börje Holmberg, Sir John Daniel and Tan Sri Raj Dhanarajan still continue to guide emerging ODL institutions in the developing world.  Many of these are members of ICDE and can draw upon the vast network and services provided, to go to the next level.

Many ODL institutions in developing countries still lack parity of esteem with campus institutions and are constantly called upon to justify their quality. If SDG 4 is to be achieved, we will need to harness the potential of distance online and flexible learning not just for formal education but for non-formal and informal learning as well.  However, in several developing countries, regulatory provisions are creating barriers rather than enabling the provision of alternative approaches for lifelong learning for all. ICDE can play a major role in providing evidence-based advocacy through robust research with its many partners.

As we witness a greater convergence of campus and distance provision, boundaries are disappearing and ICDE is in a different world from when it was first established 80 years ago. ICDE has responded to this ‘brave new world’ by developing a Strategic Plan (2017-2020) which aims to promote quality digital, open and flexible education; strengthen leadership and good governance in member institutions and provide enhanced services to members through cooperation, collaboration and networking opportunities.

As an Executive Committee member of ICDE, I am really impressed by how a small number of staff in the Secretariat, is able to make such a huge impact globally. The critical success factor is partnerships and collaboration. COL, as an active partner, will continue to accompany ICDE on its journey as it enters its ninth decade. I congratulate all members of ICDE and the distance online and flexible learning community for achieving this significant milestone and for promoting the cause of increasing access to quality education and lifelong learning for all.

Professor Asha Kanwar

President and CEO, Commonwealth of Learning, Canada.