|Issue:||Latin America IV 2001|
|Topic:||Globalisation and ICT – How Training Policies Can Help Close the Gap|
|Title:||Head of the Information and Training Branch Division|
|Organisation:||Infrastructure for Development and Trade Efficiency, UNCTAD|
During the past 50 years, the world economy has seen three big surges of integration. The first wave, starting in 1945, was the internationalisation trade flows which, year after year, increased more rapidly than national production. The institution of GATT, today known as WTO, was created in the midst of this growth.
During the 1960s and 70s, a second wave of integration overtook the preceding one. Called the wave of trans-nationalism, it caused financial flows to increase even faster than trade flows. A third wave of integration, called globalisation, occurred at the end of the 1980s and in the early 1990s. It was characterised by the unprecedented growth of a third factor-information flows. Today, the flow of information has increased in volume much more rapidly than that of financial or trade flows. That is the trademark of globalisation. Globalisation and interdependence have opened new opportunities-through increased trade liberalisation and advances in technology-for the growth of the world economy and local development. Although some countries have successfully adapted to the changes and benefited from globalisation, the results have been mixed. Globalisation and developing countries Who will be the winners? Who, on the other hand, will lose because of globalisation? This question which public and private sector decision-makers throughout the world face has especial importance for developing countries. The dramatic increase in the flow of information and the emergence of the new economy gives rise not only to enthusiasm, but also to fear. From the point of view of developing countries, the question is how to profit from the phenomenon and best take advantage of the world’s rapidly integrating economy. Globalisation is a powerful and dynamic force for growth and development. It can improve the overall performance of economies in developing countries by opening up new market opportunities for their exports, by increasing the financial resources available for investment in physical and intangible assets and by promoting the transfer of skills technology and information. If we want globalisation to be an active, not passive, phenomenon, it is important to reinvent it day after day. Developing countries can then have a significant, even leading, role in this process. By contributing to its diversity, they infuse the phenomenon of globalisation with vitality. Electronic commerce and information technologies and new applications such as distance learning, for instance, can play a central role in this process. Distance learning presents a series of challenges, problems and, also, opportunities to developing countries in general and to the least developed countries in particular. Distance Learning: A Modern Tool for Capacity-Building Through Training in the Least Developed Countries It is important to try to answer some of the most persistent questions in the field, such as ‘Just what is distance learning bringing to the least developed countries?’ or ‘What sort of distance learning tools can be used in the least developed counties?’ Distance learning is able to conveniently address the training needs of large, widespread, groups and provide flexible, easy, access to information while maintaining the level and quality of the traditional educational process. Distance learning, today, especially in the least developed counties, is strongly linked to information and communication technologies (ICTs), especially the Internet. The Internet makes it practical to disseminate services by way of online audio and video conferencing and chat rooms or e-mail, file transfers and the like. Online training on the Internet can be supplemented with other media (CD-ROMs, video or audio cassettes, DVDs, etc.) as needed. Distance Learning Today in the Least Developed Countries The recent development of distance learning in the least developed countries is still strongly linked to programmes and initiatives put forth by international aid agencies and bilateral co-operation institutions. Over the past 10 years, fundamental decisions with reference to the adoption of national distance learning policies were taken because of initiatives of the UN and its agencies (UNDP, UNESCO, UNITAR, ILO, UNCTAD), bilateral co-operation (France, USA, Switzerland, Canada), various donors (World Bank, EU), institutions of higher learning and research (IRD), NGOs, and sub-regional associations. Most of the programmes that resulted were initiated, financed and implemented by these actors. Distance Learning Challenges in the Least Developed Countries Globally, the connectivity of the Least Developed Counties is only one half of one per cent. More than 90 per cent of their people do not have fixed telephones. Active participation of the least developed countries in distance learning is, as we might assume, strongly linked to these two elements. The high cost of telecommunications, as well as electricity shortages and sudden cuts, are major obstacles to the full implementation of distance learning activities in these countries. This contributes to the idea that distance learning is an expensive tool and, therefore, an approach reserved only for rich countries. Until now, distance learning reflected the vertical development (North-South) of information flows. Creating local content for distance learning and fostering ‘South-South’ and regional information flows are major challenges for the least developed countries. Notwithstanding this uneasy situation in the least developed countries, distance learning is progressively acquiring more support and heading towards the development of a distance learning environment based on a scientific model. Progress is being made towards integrating proven features compatible with local technological, social and cultural specificities and in evolving a clear-cut network of competencies to provide tangible results in the distance-learning environment. UNCTAD and Distance Learning UNCTAD, at its tenth intergovernmental conference (Bangkok, February 2000) reaffirmed the cross-cutting issue of the least developed countries and their priority in the work of the Organisation. UNCTAD plays a leading role in capacity-building by reinforcing governments, training institutions and universities. It has developed a distance learning strategy using the Internet, and specialised tools to support this approach, specifically designed to fit the requirements of the least developed countries. UNCTAD’s distance learning strategy takes into account not only the sizeable potential of this new technology but, as well, existing local capabilities, resources and potential. Specific Solutions for Each Country Taking these factors into account, simultaneously, leads to the implementation of specific solutions for each country-to plans that integrate the various training techniques in a manner that best benefits each country. The implementation of this strategy is very flexible and takes into account the technical capabilities of developing countries. Potentialities of Distance Learning: A Model Strategy As previously mentioned, distance learning is nowadays intertwined with ICT. All of the 49 least developed counties are connected to Internet, albeit at different degrees. Each country must adopt a national, previously agreed upon, distance learning policy to consolidate its actions and rationally implement the appropriate training programmes. According to our experience, to have a significant impact upon sustainable development, it is necessary to: o strengthen the infrastructure and capacities of local telecommunication operators to create a sound environment that will enable people, by themselves, to resort to the Internet; o promote access by citizens and institutions to information and training opportunities available through the Internet; o reduce import taxes on computer material and related multimedia support; o strengthen the capabilities of all local distance learning stakeholders (experts, pedagogues, computer scientists, graphic designers, trainers, tutors and the like) who use proven methodologies (these people, grouped in multidisciplinary teams, can form the basis for design, implementation and management of local training programmes); o evaluate and gather together in ‘pedagogical interest groups’ all the appropriate community resources -trainees, trainers, training institutions, government institutions, local agencies, politicians, etc.; and o assess the technical environment and propose technically and economically appropriate pedagogic scenarios for maximum reliability. A joint assessment of these different strategic variables often shows that resources are, indeed, available in existing projects and need only to be rationalised for maximum efficiency. Conclusions In the light of the above, it is clear that distance learning has widespread potential to open new social and economic development opportunities for the least developed countries. There are four points that must be considered to assure quality distance learning training: 1. Who should our Distance Learning partners be? Our studies show that need for training is particularly strong in areas such as international trade, where national universities have either not yet developed the needed competence or implemented courses in the subject. Local universities and centres where competence and resources (human and technical) are available are the best partners for distance learning. It goes without saying that the best results are achieved with motivated trainees. The selection criteria and process are thus key elements to be taken into account. 2. How can we implement Distance Learning? The first step is to have all parties involved adhere to a distance learning methodology. The second step is to conduct teaching sessions to master the modern training tools. Following a pilot phase, to validate the new training systems and methods, face-to-face seminars and distance learning, or a combination of both, should be programmed regularly according to demand. 3. Efficient Distance Learning: how much does it cost? It is important to distinguish between production and delivery costs. These costs vary according to the training material used. A compromise between quality and support costs is often needed. An intermediate solution, with a cost-sharing agreement between donors and beneficiaries, is essential in most countries to ensuring the effort is sustainable and to strengthen the partnership between the participants. “If correctly carried out, and high quality standards are maintained, distance learning can maximise the cost/benefits ratio of training, efficiently training more people at lower cost.” 4.What results should we expect? If correctly carried out, and high quality are standards maintained, distance learning can maximise the cost/benefits ratio of training, efficiently training more people at lower cost. The flexibility of the system allows material to be easily updated, corrected and adapted to national training policies as defined by the concerned parties.