Wawasan Open University (WOU) co-hosted the Commonwealth of Learning (COL)’s Regional Focal Points Meeting for Asia at its main campus, together with the Malaysian Ministry of Higher Education (MOHE) and COL.
Eighteen participants comprising senior government officials and academics from Malaysia, Brunei Darussalam, India, Sri Lanka, Pakistan and Maldives, as well as four top COL officials, attended this two-day meeting. The representatives from Malaysia included Deputy Director-General of Higher Education, Prof Dr Morshidi Sirat, and WOU Vice Chancellor Prof Dr Wong Tat Meng.
The objective of the Focal Points meeting was to share information on the status of open and distance learning in each participating country, discuss the mid-term reports for the period 2009-2012 to assess what COL has done in each country, and to identify what challenges and training priorities in the education and in the livelihoods and health sector to incorporate as COL prepares the Three Year Plan for 2012 to 2015. This will ensure that COL develops country action proposals to meet the priorities of the member states, thus helping the respective governments and institutions expand opportunities for learning.
The COL facilitators at the meeting were president and chief executive officer Sir John Daniel, vice president Prof Prof Asha Kanwar, and Education Specialists Dr K Balasubramanian and John Lesperance.
Speaking at the opening, Sir John said COL works in three year-planning cycles which corresponds to the triennial meeting of the Ministers of Education of the Commonwealth countries. He noted, “In the field of open and distance learning (ODL), Malaysia is a pace-setter, particulary in the corporate structures that’s in place for this purpose in higher education.”
Prof Wong stated, “COL has played a very important role globally in not only promoting ODL for development in the Commonweatlh countries but has significantly contributed to impact the development of ODL itself,” he stated.
Prof Morshidi said, “The Ministry’s enculturation of lifelong learning initiative has two objectives, which is to ensure that lifeong learning becomes a way of life for Malaysians to equip them with skills, and secondly to make lifelong learning the catalyst for establishing a learning community in every oganisation in the country.”
He commended COL’s inclusion of livelihood and health in the 2009-2012 plan in addition to ODL as Malaysia has a large rural workforce and community in need of basic infrastructure, health amenities and education.
Prof Kanwar outlined that the meeting provides a platform to report to member states on what COL is doing and how it can assist their country, adding that the final report will be presented to the Commonwealth Ministers of Education.
In the country report for COL prepared by MOHE, the top five priorities listed were: opening up access to higher and continuing education; enculturation of lifelong learning to promote sharing of tools, experience, and expertise in the region;; internationalisation of Malaysian education through online distance education; use of e-learning to enhance learning at all levels; and learning for Livelihood especially for rural regions in Malaysia.
At the closing of the three-day meeting, Director-General of Higher Education Prof Datuk Rujhan Mustafa said “enculturation of lifelong learning” is one of the thrusts to transform Malaysia’s higher education system to meet the challenges of the future.
During the final session, Prof Kanwar offered some background on the 54-member Commonwealth of Nations – 60% of the population is below 25 years; home to one-third of the world’s poor, of which two-thirds are women; has 450 million out of the 800 million adult illiterate globally; and more than 500 million rural workforce in agriculture are in need of training opportunities.
The COL is an intergovernmental organisation, based in Canada, created by Commonwealth Heads of Government to encourage the development and sharing of open learning and distance education knowledge, resources and technologies.