Last week all roads from all over the Commonwealth countries led to Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. This was the venue of the Eighth Pan Commonwealth Forum (PCF8), which was hosted by the Open University of Malaysia (OUM). Planned by the Commonwealth of Learning (COL), the PCF is held triennially and provides an opportunity for the Commonwealth community to exchange knowledge, experiences and innovative ideas on enhancing human development by widening access to high quality education. Ephraim Mhlanga reports.
PCF8 Theme and sub-themes
This year’s PCF took place from 27 – 30th November 2016 under the theme: Open, Online and Flexible Learning: The Key to Sustainable Development. Under this theme were four sub-themes on which conference keynote addresses and paper presentations were based, namely:
- Quality and Equity in Learning (which covered Quality Assurance Frameworks, Accreditation, Certification, Benchmarking, Ranking);
- Access and Inclusion (which covered e-Learning, Massive Open Online Courses(MOOCs) Public-Private Partnership, Equitable Educational Opportunities, Policies);
- Efficiency and Effectiveness (which covered Business Models, Comparative Studies); and
- Technology and Innovation (which covered Teaching and Learning, Mobile Learning, Collaborative Learning, MOOCs, Open Educational Resources (OER).
PCF8 was a vibrant event that was characterised by the presence of internationally renowned figures in the field of innovative education, who were keynote speakers. Amongst these people were the Vice Chancellor & President of RMIT University, Mr Martin Bean; President/ Vice Chancellor of Open University of Malaysia, Prof Mansor Fadzil; Nations Under Secretary – General and Executive Director, UN Women, Dr Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka; and Chief Academic Officer, Lumen Learning, Dr David Wiley. Each of these keynote speakers spoke on one of the conference sub-themes.
Also gracing this occasion was the former President and CEO of COL, Sir John Daniels as well as Ministers of Education from Ghana, Nigeria, Swaziland, Botswana and Tonga. With his vast experience in Open and Distance Learning, Sir John Daniels gave the Asa Briggs Lecture on Re-drawing the Map of Learning, a speech that underscored the importance of re-thinking how education should be deployed in order to reach as many people whilst at the same time maintaining quality.
Saide’s Open Educational Resources (OER) voice was eloquent at the PCF8. Both Jenny Glennie, the Saide Director and Catherine Ngugi, OER Africa project Director presented on Saide’s OER initiatives in the parallel sessions. Jenny’s presentation, prepared jointly with Tessa Welch, entitled The Contribution of an Open Publishing Model to Solving a Fundamental Educational Need was based on the African Storybook, one of Saide’s flagship projects that has demonstrated how open publishing can transform resource capacity and practice in disadvantaged learning environments. This project has generated 741 unique story titles and 2899 translations/adaptations in 98 different languages all of which are openly licensed and are available on the website. What is unique about this initiative is that it provides reading resources to children in their familiar African languages. Delegates were impressed by the number of stories the project has managed to produce, and the languages in which these stories have been published on the website in such a short space of time.
Catherine made two presentations at the Forum, the first one was on OER Africa and the second one on the COL research report, Open Educational Resources in the Commonwealth 2016 that was released just before PCF8. In her first presentation, she highlighted OER Africa’s work at four universities in Kenya, Tanzania and South Africa. OER Africa is supporting the four universities in improving the quality of delivery through the use of OER and ICTs. Whilst it brought out a growing willingness amongst the institutions to embrace OER, Catherine’s presentation also explored existing barriers to deepening a culture of implementing research-based pedagogical change in African universities.
In addition to Jenny and Catherine, Ephraim Mhlanga was the lead facilitator for the five parallel sessions on Quality and Equity in Learning, one of the five sub-themes of the Forum.
A key outcome of PCF8 was the Kuala Lumpur Declaration that was made and pronounced at the end of the Conference. The Declaration recommended, among others, that governments, institutions, private sector and civil society promote lifelong learning that is open to people, places, methods and ideas.