COL urges Guyana: Take advantage of Virtual University for small states By Robert Bazil
Guyana Chronicle
March 7, 2007

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Information Officer, Commonwealth Youth Programme Caribbean Centre

PRESIDENT of the Commonwealth of Learning (COL), Sir John Daniel wants Guyana to take full advantage of the Virtual University for Small States of the Commonwealth (VUSSC), noting that while the country has signed up as a member it has not been very active so far.

Sir John's call to Guyana to seek greater access to COL's resources was made in a lecture entitled 'How Can Learning Contribute to Development?' hosted in Georgetown by the University of Guyana on February 26 as part of the Dennis Irvine Lecture Series.

His said he was hopeful that this situation would change following a meeting he had with officials of Guyana's Ministry of Education during his visit to deliver the lecture.

The Virtual University for Small States of the Commonwealth was conceived by the Ministers of Education when they met in 2000. COL has helped the ministers on a proposal which they approved when they met again in 2003 and has since been coordinating the implementation of the VUSSC.

"So far we have secured funds for the development of the Virtual University for Small States of the Commonwealth from two sources, the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation of the USA and the Commonwealth Fund for Technical Cooperation (CFTC). The CFTC has allocated 1 million over four years as part of its policy of supporting human resource development in the Commonwealth," Sir John said.

A major use of these funds has been to hold planning and course development meetings. Although much of the work of course development takes place online and at a distance, COL believes that to get the project going, people needed to meet. These course development meetings are nicknamed 'boot camps' because they include basic training in online working.

According to Sir John, a very important milestone in the development of the Virtual University was the first course development boot camp held in Mauritius in August last year. Participants were introduced to the ICT components of the Virtual University for Small States of the Commonwealth, open source software, Wikis, and ePortfolios.

The participants in the Boot Camp created content on Tourism and Hospitality and on Small Business Management - three times as much material as was expected in the time available. This course development work is continuing as participants contribute online from their offices at home, he said.

This month work on courses on professional development for teachers will get under way at a boot camp in Singapore with 24 states participating. Participants in these boot camps picked up skills quickly and are now providing buddy-training to their colleagues back in their countries.

Sir John feels that this illustrates what a useful tool the VUSSC will be in bridging the digital divide in the small states.

COL's role is to coordinate the initiative; to put its expertise in educational technology at the disposal of the participants; to assist in building local capacity; and to obtain funds for the programme.