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IAU Durban Conference, August 20-25, 2000
                                   11th General Conference: Universities as Gateway to the Future
                                                                                 Plenary Panel II


H. Ian Macdonald,
Chairman, the Commonwealth of Learning, Canada

Introduction
I have never been enthusiastic about the term 'Knowledge Society'. First, it does a service to the past.
The ancient civilizations were certainly knowledge societies and were knowledge-based. But, second
it begs the question: knowledge for whom? In far too many discussions there is an implicit assumption
that it will enhance western style economic life and the market economy, accelerate the gross national
product and lubricate the engine of globalization as it proceeds along an inexorable path of
neomarquentalist colonialism. Already today, one of the world's greatest problems is the widening
income differential both in the so-called developed world and the developing world - between the well
off and the ill off. That is not, for me, what a Knowledge society should be about, nor what learning
and training should be seeking to serve. Rather development of the individual, the enhancing of human
potential and the creation of a more compassionate society are the ultimate goals of education and
knowledge.
I am speaking, this morning, not as a former President and Vice-Chancellor of York University in
Canada, a position I occupied for a decade, nor as one whom served for ten years on the
Administrative Board of the IAU. I speak as Chairman of the Commonwealth of Learning to amplify
some of the remarks of our President, Gajaraj Dhanarajan, yesterday. And, as the Commonwealth,
which accounts for one quarter of the people's of the world, is currently home to the world's largest
proportion of out-of-school children, 135 million illiterates, 990 million young people and adults
untrained and under-trained teachers an access of 15 to 20 million and the lowest rates of participation
in post-secondary education, under 3 per cent of the age cohort. I am not prepared to acknowledge that
we have a Knowledge Society. Commonwealth citizens certainly are uncertain if they will be offered
lifelong learning, training and retraining, vital to their economic and social well being. HIV Aids is
decimating skilled labour and professional groups, aggravating further the already tenuous situation.
And, so significantly, it increased access to education and training at all levels and for all ages. It is
essential to sustain even the minimum development gains of the last ten years. To assist in that
process, we must marshal all the skills and the leadership of this university community.
In the brief time available to me, Mr. Chairman, I want to add a preface and a postscript to Dr.
Dhanarajan's remarks.
Preface
First, the preface. Many here will not be familiar with the Commonwealth of Learning, founded in
1987, and established in Vancouver, Canada, in 1988. It is the only official Commonwealth Institution
located outside the United Kingdom. It was created by the Heads of Government of the
Commonwealth to assist in the provision of open distance and technology mediated learning to meet
the education and training requirements of all of their peoples. We work at all levels of education,
although originally conceived to work with universities, basic and secondary education, non-formal
education, teacher training, continuing, technical and professional education and higher education.
And, so far in the fifty-four countries of the Commonwealth, we have delivered some 600 projects.
This includes influencing the creation or enhancing the capacity of open universities in India, Pakistan,
Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, Tanzania and
Zimbabwe, as well as the universities of the West Indies and the South Pacific. We operate in all
forms of educational communication, conventional print, radio, film and video, teleconferencing, both
audio and visual, and, of course, electronic. Whatever best suits the situation, we adapt to those
requirements. For example, I was speaking to a group of African educators earlier this week at a
meeting in the United Kingdom. One of them described the situation in a small neighbouring sub-
Saharan country. I was able to suggest that radio seemed the appropriate medium for their situation.
Postscript
And, now the postscript. My own background and experience was, like so many here, in the
conventional forms of university education. My conversion to open and distance learning occurred at
an Administrative Board Meeting in New Delhi in 1982. We were privileged then to be received by
the late Madame Gandhi. She remarked to me in a conversation that India's educational policy, at that
time, was to have every child with access to basic education by the year 1995. Sadly, she amended that
we require the addition of ten million school places a year between 1982 and 1995. I I thought there
will have to be another way. And, that way, was the way described years earlier by my good friend
and colleague, the late Marshall MacLuhan, when he spoke about schools without walls.
Arguments stood on their Heads
I know well the arguments by many traditional institutions of higher education against distance
education and open learning. But, let me simply say three: one, the new mode must be of inferior
quality and we will debase the currency. But, in fact, an increasing number of studies revealed that
such education, open learning and distance education, can be comparable or of even higher quality and
certainly provided to larger numbers at substantially lower costs. Two, there is the concern about
providing for research. However, that too is being off-set now by communications technology and in
this very city, at UNICEF, for example, you have a splendid indication of what can be accomplished.
Third, the developing countries cannot afford the technology and will be left further behind. On the
contrary, as we move quickly into newer and more powerful forms of wireless technology, the newer
institutions will, in fact, be free of the old baggage and able to leap frog earlier technologies. For
example, providing virtual libraries with stocks of currently unaffordable journals and reference books
for effective teaching and learning will become a reality.
For the Commonwealth of Learning, we are now prepared to assist with the formation of consortia of
Commonwealth higher education institutions, so that the Commonwealth education space continues to
offer curricula to develop the locally in contrast to that provided by external online providers.
Likewise, we are prepared to respond to growing requests by institutions to provide certification of
programmes developed jointly and even to award joint degrees in order to enhance both the prestige of
programmes and mobility within the Commonwealth. For example, we will shortly announce a new
Commonwealth Executive MBA/MPA among four open universities in Asia, as a pilot for such
opportunities, based on best practices, based on collaboration.
Four Remarks
So, finally Mr. Chairman, for all my enthusiasm, let me close with four remarks. One, educational
technology is a significant supplement. But, it does not replace the human element and the qualitative
role of the teacher and so on. In all of our programmes, there must be a human presence, at least at the
end of the line. Two, education is not simply about the enlargement of the gross national product.
Indeed, in these days of concern over sustainable development, we must continue our efforts to take
some of the grossness out of the gross national product. It would produce a world of greater peace and
opportunity. Third, if the final result, both in terms of nations and individuals, should be that the rich
get richer and a lot of the poor is not enhanced, then we shall have failed utterly.
Therefore, we must never turn our backs on those for whom technology will be slower to take root, in
the interest of building monuments to ourselves as distance educators. And, finally, we must ensure
that increasing use of educational technology does not encourage paternalism, too often a
characteristic of universities in the past. We should not encourage not encourage a paternal as opposed
to a partnership approach between individuals, institutions and nations. I can assure you that the
Commonwealth of Learning, in employing open learning and distance education, has a means of
ensuring greater opportunities and greater equality on reach of the principal that we can all learn from
one another in the process. And, so in that sense, we are a catalyst, rather than a missionary dedicated
to capacity building in the developing world in order to meet each country's and each community's
social goals.
The Spirit of Yogi Berra
There is a legendary American baseball player who is given to wording malapropisms of extraordinary
kind. At one instance, he is alleged to have said: 'When you come to a fork on the road, I say take it'.
Curiously, in this case, at the fork on the road, there are many directions that we should be prepared to
take. We should be prepared to take them in full awareness of where they can lead. We should
prepared to take them, tolerant of the approaches appropriate to different institutions and different
people and prepared to take them in the spirit of learning from one another and marching forward
together.

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Durban p2 h. ian macdonald

  • 1. IAU Durban Conference, August 20-25, 2000 11th General Conference: Universities as Gateway to the Future Plenary Panel II H. Ian Macdonald, Chairman, the Commonwealth of Learning, Canada Introduction I have never been enthusiastic about the term 'Knowledge Society'. First, it does a service to the past. The ancient civilizations were certainly knowledge societies and were knowledge-based. But, second it begs the question: knowledge for whom? In far too many discussions there is an implicit assumption that it will enhance western style economic life and the market economy, accelerate the gross national product and lubricate the engine of globalization as it proceeds along an inexorable path of neomarquentalist colonialism. Already today, one of the world's greatest problems is the widening income differential both in the so-called developed world and the developing world - between the well off and the ill off. That is not, for me, what a Knowledge society should be about, nor what learning and training should be seeking to serve. Rather development of the individual, the enhancing of human potential and the creation of a more compassionate society are the ultimate goals of education and knowledge. I am speaking, this morning, not as a former President and Vice-Chancellor of York University in Canada, a position I occupied for a decade, nor as one whom served for ten years on the Administrative Board of the IAU. I speak as Chairman of the Commonwealth of Learning to amplify some of the remarks of our President, Gajaraj Dhanarajan, yesterday. And, as the Commonwealth, which accounts for one quarter of the people's of the world, is currently home to the world's largest proportion of out-of-school children, 135 million illiterates, 990 million young people and adults untrained and under-trained teachers an access of 15 to 20 million and the lowest rates of participation in post-secondary education, under 3 per cent of the age cohort. I am not prepared to acknowledge that we have a Knowledge Society. Commonwealth citizens certainly are uncertain if they will be offered lifelong learning, training and retraining, vital to their economic and social well being. HIV Aids is decimating skilled labour and professional groups, aggravating further the already tenuous situation. And, so significantly, it increased access to education and training at all levels and for all ages. It is essential to sustain even the minimum development gains of the last ten years. To assist in that process, we must marshal all the skills and the leadership of this university community. In the brief time available to me, Mr. Chairman, I want to add a preface and a postscript to Dr. Dhanarajan's remarks. Preface First, the preface. Many here will not be familiar with the Commonwealth of Learning, founded in 1987, and established in Vancouver, Canada, in 1988. It is the only official Commonwealth Institution located outside the United Kingdom. It was created by the Heads of Government of the Commonwealth to assist in the provision of open distance and technology mediated learning to meet the education and training requirements of all of their peoples. We work at all levels of education, although originally conceived to work with universities, basic and secondary education, non-formal education, teacher training, continuing, technical and professional education and higher education. And, so far in the fifty-four countries of the Commonwealth, we have delivered some 600 projects. This includes influencing the creation or enhancing the capacity of open universities in India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, Tanzania and Zimbabwe, as well as the universities of the West Indies and the South Pacific. We operate in all forms of educational communication, conventional print, radio, film and video, teleconferencing, both audio and visual, and, of course, electronic. Whatever best suits the situation, we adapt to those requirements. For example, I was speaking to a group of African educators earlier this week at a meeting in the United Kingdom. One of them described the situation in a small neighbouring sub- Saharan country. I was able to suggest that radio seemed the appropriate medium for their situation. Postscript
  • 2. And, now the postscript. My own background and experience was, like so many here, in the conventional forms of university education. My conversion to open and distance learning occurred at an Administrative Board Meeting in New Delhi in 1982. We were privileged then to be received by the late Madame Gandhi. She remarked to me in a conversation that India's educational policy, at that time, was to have every child with access to basic education by the year 1995. Sadly, she amended that we require the addition of ten million school places a year between 1982 and 1995. I I thought there will have to be another way. And, that way, was the way described years earlier by my good friend and colleague, the late Marshall MacLuhan, when he spoke about schools without walls. Arguments stood on their Heads I know well the arguments by many traditional institutions of higher education against distance education and open learning. But, let me simply say three: one, the new mode must be of inferior quality and we will debase the currency. But, in fact, an increasing number of studies revealed that such education, open learning and distance education, can be comparable or of even higher quality and certainly provided to larger numbers at substantially lower costs. Two, there is the concern about providing for research. However, that too is being off-set now by communications technology and in this very city, at UNICEF, for example, you have a splendid indication of what can be accomplished. Third, the developing countries cannot afford the technology and will be left further behind. On the contrary, as we move quickly into newer and more powerful forms of wireless technology, the newer institutions will, in fact, be free of the old baggage and able to leap frog earlier technologies. For example, providing virtual libraries with stocks of currently unaffordable journals and reference books for effective teaching and learning will become a reality. For the Commonwealth of Learning, we are now prepared to assist with the formation of consortia of Commonwealth higher education institutions, so that the Commonwealth education space continues to offer curricula to develop the locally in contrast to that provided by external online providers. Likewise, we are prepared to respond to growing requests by institutions to provide certification of programmes developed jointly and even to award joint degrees in order to enhance both the prestige of programmes and mobility within the Commonwealth. For example, we will shortly announce a new Commonwealth Executive MBA/MPA among four open universities in Asia, as a pilot for such opportunities, based on best practices, based on collaboration. Four Remarks So, finally Mr. Chairman, for all my enthusiasm, let me close with four remarks. One, educational technology is a significant supplement. But, it does not replace the human element and the qualitative role of the teacher and so on. In all of our programmes, there must be a human presence, at least at the end of the line. Two, education is not simply about the enlargement of the gross national product. Indeed, in these days of concern over sustainable development, we must continue our efforts to take some of the grossness out of the gross national product. It would produce a world of greater peace and opportunity. Third, if the final result, both in terms of nations and individuals, should be that the rich get richer and a lot of the poor is not enhanced, then we shall have failed utterly. Therefore, we must never turn our backs on those for whom technology will be slower to take root, in the interest of building monuments to ourselves as distance educators. And, finally, we must ensure that increasing use of educational technology does not encourage paternalism, too often a characteristic of universities in the past. We should not encourage not encourage a paternal as opposed to a partnership approach between individuals, institutions and nations. I can assure you that the Commonwealth of Learning, in employing open learning and distance education, has a means of ensuring greater opportunities and greater equality on reach of the principal that we can all learn from one another in the process. And, so in that sense, we are a catalyst, rather than a missionary dedicated to capacity building in the developing world in order to meet each country's and each community's social goals. The Spirit of Yogi Berra There is a legendary American baseball player who is given to wording malapropisms of extraordinary kind. At one instance, he is alleged to have said: 'When you come to a fork on the road, I say take it'. Curiously, in this case, at the fork on the road, there are many directions that we should be prepared to take. We should be prepared to take them in full awareness of where they can lead. We should prepared to take them, tolerant of the approaches appropriate to different institutions and different people and prepared to take them in the spirit of learning from one another and marching forward