News Releases

UWI Principal to host Commonwealth of Learning Forum

For Release Upon Receipt - November 20, 2009

St. Augustine

In the lead-up to the upcoming Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM), the Commonwealth of Learning (COL) will host an international forum promoting distance education and open learning. The COL forum will be held at The University of the West Indies (UWI) St. Augustine Campus from 9:30 a.m. on November 24th, under the patronage of University Pro Vice Chancellor and St. Augustine Campus Principal, Professor Clement K. Sankat. The event is being jointly sponsored by UWI, COL, the Ministry of Science, Technology and Tertiary Education (MSTTE) and the Ministry of Education (MOE).


Created by Commonwealth Heads of Government, COL is an intergovernmental organisation that facilitates the development and sharing of knowledge about open learning and distance education, resources and technologies. With the support of Commonwealth Ministers of Education, COL is currently developing the Virtual University for Small States of the Commonwealth (VUSSC), which aims to provide open content resources for education, training and capacity building, and the use of information and communications technologies (ICTs) to broaden access to education. Increased access is one major benefit of electronic learning (or e-learning), a fast-growing global industry. The MIT OpenCourseWare programme, which has made substantial portions of that university’s curriculum and lectures freely available online, is one example of the many ways in which instructors of the highest calibre can share their knowledge across borders, allowing students to attend courses across physical, political, and economic boundaries at minimum cost.


Another major benefit is improved learning. A twelve-year study by the U.S. Department of Education found that higher education students in online learning generally performed better than those in face-to-face courses. In many contexts, e-learning is self-paced and the learning sessions are available 24/7. Learners are not bound to a specific day/time to physically attend classes. They can also pause learning sessions at their convenience. High-end technology is not necessary for all online courses. Basic internet access, audio, and video capabilities are common requirements.


Distance learning also enables learners to develop essential skills for a knowledge-based economy by embedding the use of information and communications technologies within the curriculum. Through e-learning initiatives, COL is developing the skills and competencies of the people of the Commonwealth, and ensuring that learners have the digital literacy skills required in their discipline, profession or career. COL responds to Commonwealth needs through in-country and regional programmes and initiatives, as well as fee-for-service consulting for international agencies and national governments. Its work is grouped into three sectors of activity: education, learning for livelihoods and human environment.


The COL Board of Governors comprises 14 people, including Sir John Daniel (President and CEO), Professor Asha Kanwar, Vice President of COL, Burchell Whiteman (Chair) and Professor Clement Sankat, all of whom will speak at the upcoming COL forum. Representatives from MSTTE, MOE and the University of Trinidad and Tobago (UTT) will also deliver remarks, as will Karen Rosemin, Director of the MSTTE Distance Learning Secretariat. Sir John will deliver the feature presentation, titled Learning for Development, focusing on COL’s three-year plan for 2009-2012.

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About Sir John Daniel

Sir John Daniel became President of COL in 2004 after gaining wide international experience in universities and the United Nations system. He obtained his full-time university education in Metallurgy at Oxford and Paris and later demonstrated his commitment to lifelong learning by taking 25 years to complete a part-time Master's degree in Educational Technology at Concordia University. However, the internship for that programme, which took him to the UK Open University in 1972, was a life-changing experience. He saw the future of higher education and wanted to be part of it. This quest took him on an international odyssey with appointments at the Télé-université (Directeur des Études, 1973-77), Athabasca University (Vice-President for Learning Services, 1978-80), Concordia University (Vice-Rector, Academic, 1980-84), Laurentian University (President, 1984-90), the UK Open University (Vice-Chancellor, 1990-2001) and UNESCO (Assistant Director-General for Education, 2001-04). His non-executive appointments have included the presidencies of the International Council for Open and Distance Education, the Canadian Association for Distance Education and the Canadian Society for the Study of Higher Education. He also served as Vice-President of the International Baccalaureate Organisation. The best known of Sir John's 250 publications is his book Mega-Universities and Knowledge Media: Technology Strategies for Higher Education (Kogan Page, 1996). He was knighted by Queen Elizabeth for services to higher education in 1994 and holds 30 honorary doctorates, fellowships and professorships from universities and professional bodies in 16 countries.  A citizen of Canada and the UK, his hobbies are walking and boating. His name is recorded in the annals of Westminster Abbey as the first person to preach there using a laptop computer.



About Burchell Whiteman, O.J.

Burchell Whiteman became Chair of the Board of Governors of the Commonwealth of Learning in September 2008, after several months serving as Acting Chair. He was first appointed to the COL Board in 2002 as the Regional Representative for the Caribbean. Burchell Whiteman has devoted his life to public service in Jamaica. He started his professional career more than 40 years ago as a teacher. He was subsequently appointed to the position of Principal, first at York Castle High School in 1969, and then at Brown's Community College. As an educator, he was known throughout Jamaica as an innovative and respected member of the profession. Burchell Whiteman began a new career as a politician in 1989 when he was first elected as a Member of the Jamaican Parliament and was immediately appointed Minister of State for Education. In 1992, he joined the Cabinet as Minister of Education, Youth and Culture, where he served for ten years before deciding not to run in the October 2002 election. The Prime Minister then appointed him to the Senate and kept him in Cabinet as Minister of Information and Leader of Government Business in the Senate. Mr. Whiteman retired from politics, stepping down from the Senate, in 2006. In early 2007, he was appointed Jamaica's High Commissioner to the U.K. In 2006, he was awarded the Order of Jamaica for his outstanding contribution to Education and the Legislature and named an Honorary Fellow of the Commonwealth of Learning "for his contribution to Jamaica as an innovative and highly respected educator and politician, and for his continuing contribution to the Commonwealth of Learning as a thoughtful, experienced and committed member of its Board of Governors."


About col

The Commonwealth of Learning (COL) is an intergovernmental organisation created by Commonwealth Heads of Government to encourage the development and sharing of open learning/distance education knowledge, resources and technologies. COL is helping developing nations improve access to quality education and training. Based in Vancouver, Canada, COL is the world's only intergovernmental organisation dedicated solely to promoting and delivering distance education and open learning, and is the only official Commonwealth agency located outside Britain. Mandated to be in the vanguard of technological change in education and training, COL and its international network of partner organisations have helped the Commonwealth's 53 member nations and their citizens realise widespread access to quality, current education and training for over 15 years. Fully operational since 1989, COL is financially supported by Commonwealth governments on a voluntary basis. It responds to Commonwealth needs through in-country and regional programmes and initiatives, as well as fee-for-service consulting for international agencies and national governments. Although it is a tiny intergovernmental body, not a donor agency, COL has helped Commonwealth countries give millions of people new opportunities to learn over the two decades of its existence. The secret of its success is to empower governments, institutions and individuals to develop learning systems themselves without relying on donors. The Commonwealth of Learning helps governments and institutions to expand the scope, scale and quality of learning by using new approaches. COL promotes policies and systems to make innovation sustainable and works with international partners to build models, create materials, enhance organisational capacity and nurture networks that facilitate learning in support of development goals. COL helps developing Commonwealth countries to increase access to learning using distance education and appropriate technologies.


About UWI

Over the last six decades, The University of the West Indies (UWI) has evolved from a fledgling college in Jamaica with 33 students to a full-fledged University with over 40,000 students. Today, UWI is the largest and most longstanding higher education provider in the English-speaking Caribbean, with main campuses in Barbados, Jamaica and Trinidad and Tobago, and Centres in Anguilla, Antigua & Barbuda, The Bahamas, Belize, British Virgin Islands, Cayman Islands, Dominica, Grenada, Montserrat, St Christopher (St Kitts) & Nevis, St Lucia, and St Vincent & the Grenadines. UWI recently launched its Open Campus, a virtual campus with over 50 physical site locations across the region, serving over 20 countries in the English-speaking Caribbean. UWI is an international university with faculty and students from over 40 countries and collaborative links with over 60 universities around the world. Through its seven Faculties, UWI offers undergraduate and postgraduate degree options in Engineering, Humanities & Education, Law, Medical Sciences, Pure & Applied Sciences, Science and Agriculture, and Social Sciences.