December 3, 2013 by Leigh-Anne Perryman
Nigeria certainly knows how to hold an opening ceremony. I’ve just walked up a long red carpet into Abuja’s International Conference Centre, the venue for the 7th Pan-Commonwealth Forum on Open Learning (PCF7), to enter a huge auditorium over which presides a long ‘high table’ for the distinguished guests, backed by sparkling lights. A military band plays from the balcony and the whole place is buzzing with delegates from around the Commonwealth, making introductions, exploring common ground and forging new alliances. We’re eagerly awaiting Nigeria’s President Dr. Goodluck Ebele Jonathan, who is scheduled to officially open the Forum.
The overarching theme of PCF7 is ‘Open learning for development: towards empowerment and transformation’. Empowerment and transformation are very much focus of the opening addresses. Professor Asha Kanwar, President and CEO of the Commonwealth of Learning (CoL), who are holding the event in partnership with the Federal Ministry of Education and the National Open University of Nigeria (NOUN), explains that ’empowerment is the process of expanding the choices and freedoms of disempowered communities’, pointing out that this links with CoL’s work, which is focused on how learning can lead to more effective development. Professor Kanwar concludes: ‘I hope that you will leave more empowered after the exciting deliberations and will return home eager to achieve transformation and empowerment in your own countries’. The conference has hardly begun but there is already a real sense that delegates are inspired to work together to achieve this aim.
PCF7 features five conference strands: Girls’ and Women’s Education, Technology and Innovation, Promoting Open Educational Resources, Institutional Development and Skills Development. The two papers I’m presenting here fall within the Promoting Open Educational Resources strand. One paper reports on my research with the TESS-India project, conducted for the UK Open University’s OER Research Hub. The other paper reports on the ‘public open scholar’ project which the UK Open University’s Tony Coughlan and I have been developing since 2011, and which explores ways of spreading the benefits of OER beyond academia by sharing them with health and wellbeing Facebook groups.
Promoting Open Educational Resources is one of the smaller PCF7 strands, with 34 papers (compared with 53 for Girls’ and Women’s Education, 70 for Skills Development and 68 for Technology and Innovation) but OER take a key place within the opening ceremony during the video address by Irina Bokova, Director General of UNESCO. She explains that ‘the UNESCO partnership with CoL is founded on the shared objective to build a people-centred, inclusive, development-oriented society, working to promote the use of OER to advance equal access to education and improve its quality…OER are key to widening access to learning.’ The impact of OER on widening access to learning is one of the hypotheses being explored by the OER Research Hub, and is also something I’m personally passionate about, so I’m pleased to hear this topic foregrounded in Irina Bokova’s address.
As I write, the opening ceremony is drawing to a close and sadly President Dr. Goodluck Ebele Jonathan could not join us in the end, due to unexpected events elsewhere in Nigeria. He was represented by the Minister for Education who spoke of Nigeria’s pride at hosting PCF7 and of the key role that NOUN will have in transforming open and distance learning in the country. NOUN, who did such an impressive job of hosting Saturday’s pre-conference workshop on social media, are very much in evidence around the conference and I’m looking forward to finding out more about their work. I’m also looking forward to the rich and varied programme across the five conference strands, especially the papers from the OER initiatives represented here. i’m very interested in the work taking place with community radio across the Commonwealth and hope to find out more over the coming days. I’ll be blogging some of the sessions I attend during the week. If you’re interested in finding out more about the PCF7 programme the Commonwealth of Learning website has a searchable database of full papers.