On March 27, the President & CEO and the Vice-President of the Commonwealth of Learning (COL), Professor Asha Kanwar and Dr Venkataraman Balaji, visited The University of the South Pacific (USP) campus in Suva, Fiji. The purpose of the visit was to meet with senior USP officials and learn about the University’s programmes and initiatives and discuss how COL and USP could collaborate on promoting distance and online learning opportunities in the region.
COL is an intergovernmental organisation based in Vancouver, Canada, which currently has 55 member countries. The primary goal of COL is to promote the development and sharing of open learning and distance education knowledge, resources, and technologies.
COL and USP have a longstanding partnership and COL has supported the University’s efforts in expanding access to educational opportunities through Open, Distance and Flexible learning through their regional center called the Pacific Centre for Flexible and Open Learning for Development (PACFOLD) Learn. This center is managed by the Centre for Flexible Learning (CFL), under the directorship of Dr Rajni Chand. PACFOLD was established in 2014 as a collaboration between COL and USP with the goal of promoting the adoption and application of flexible, open and distance learning for development with the use of technology to address the challenges faced by the people in Pacific Island Countries (PICs).
PACFOLD Learn, in collaboration with the COL, is currently implementing a project called ‘Partnership for Open, Distance and Flexible Learning in the Pacific’ funded by New Zealand’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs & Trade to support enhancing capacity and efficiency of education sectors in the Pacific (November 2020 to June 2025).
Highlights of the visit and key issues discussed:
The COL representatives were welcomed by USP’s Acting Vice-Chancellor and President, Dr. Giulio Masasso Tu’ikolongahau Pāunga and the Deputy Vice-Chancellor and Vice-President (Education), Professor Jito Vanualailai. Professor Vanualailai spoke briefly about the ODFL project and COL-PACFOLD supported activities in the Pacific. During this visit, the COL delegates and USP officials discussed a range of topics related to higher education and development in the Commonwealth.
- The importance of enhancing equitable access to education and training opportunities, particularly for marginalised and disadvantaged communities.
- The challenges of financing higher education in the Commonwealth and the role of governments and international organisations in supporting higher education institutes.
- The potential for collaboration between USP and COL in designing distance and online programmes and sharing resources and best practices in order to provide equitable access to flexible learning opportunities to students in the Pacific region.
- The role of distance and online education in supporting lifelong learning opportunities and addressing the skills gap and workforce development needs in the Commonwealth Pacific.
- The importance of expanding access to education and training through distance and online learning, especially for learners in remote and rural areas.
- Addressing the needs of the TEVT sector. Professor Vanualailai commented that TVET teaching and training is very important and USP needs to consider increasing the TVET presence in the region. He stated that in order to open up TVET training centers, they would require assistance from COL and PACFOLD Learn in developing courses for TVET teaching and training.
- The challenges and opportunities of using technology to enhance teaching and learning, including the need for training and support for teachers and learners.
- The need for collaboration between COL and USP in providing micro-credentialing courses at USP as it is one of the ways in which individuals can acquire new skills and knowledge and enhance their professional development.
- The MFAT-funded project on ODFL aims to build capacity of educators across the region. Dr Balaji stated that the ODFL project looks at teacher capacity building, TVET teacher training, micro-credentialing, out of school youth, supporting the training of science teachers in order to improve science teaching across the region. He gave a brief overview of the ODFL project outlining the four important work streams.
- Professor Kanwar talked about COL’s regional centers and their functions
- Reference was made to the key education priorities within the Pacific that were discussed during the Conference of Pacific Education Ministers 2023, held in Auckland, New Zealand.
- The principles of Universal Design for Learning (UDL) framework was also discussed. Professor Kanwar touched on the principles of UDL and how educators can create more inclusive and effective learning environments for all learners.
Overall, the visit by COL representatives to USP was a productive exchange of ideas on distance and online education and future collaboration opportunities in the Commonwealth Pacific. The deliberations also underscored the crucial role of distance and online education in supporting lifelong learning and addressing the educational needs of the Commonwealth.