Vol. 16 : No. 5< >
World Bankís Global Development Learning Network: Sharing Knowledge Electronically Between Nations to "Fight Poverty"
by George Lorenzo
Colleges and universities with strategic plans or serious intent to take their research and expertise to the developing world and beyond, as well as become part of some meaningful knowledge-sharing with other institutions and organizations across the globe, can look into the possibility of doing business with the World Bankís Global Development Learning Network (GDLN). GDLN operates one of the largest, most sophisticated and cost-effective, satellite-driven global communication systems to cross international borders.
In addition, GDLN is quickly building a large worldwide network of independently owned and operated Distance Learning Centers (DLCs) that are being utilized by private and public organizations and institutions. DLCs typically consist of a multimedia room with computers with high-speed ISDN or fiber-linked Internet access, along with a videoconference room equipped to receive and deliver learning programs around the globe, all capable of connecting to the GDLN global communications system.
These DLCs are the hubs for teaching and learning, providing the classroom facilities for holding far-reaching distance education and knowledge-sharing programs. Since launching in June 2000, GDLN has helped to build and/or established partnerships with 31 DLCs located in six regions: Africa, East Asia and the Pacific, Europe and Central Asia, Latin America and the Caribbean, the Middle East and North Africa, and North America. Eighteen of these centers have been financed in poor countries through no-interest loans sponsored by the World Bank. The remaining DLCs are within institutions and organizations that already have the facilities and technological infrastructure for connecting to GDLN.
The distance education programs being offered over the network include web-based courses, seminars and workshops by video conference, and learning activities that are a combination of both web and video conferencing. Printed materials, CD-ROMs, and/or face-to-face instruction often complement many of the programs.
More than 80 percent of the programs are offered by the World Bank Institute (WBI), which is the learning arm of the World Bank. However, according to the GDLN website, "GDLN carries learning programs drawn from a variety of public and private sources. They cover the full range of development issues from AIDS education to anticorruption strategies, from environmental compliance and enforcement to business journalism, and from macroeconomic policy to urban development."
"Itís quite a large network and itís growing even farther," says WBIís Director of Global Learning John Middleton. "The size of the network is such that thereís a huge opportunity for institutions to use the network to provide learning programs, and the use of the network is very low cost." As an example, Middleton explained that it would cost about $2,000 for two hours of video conferencing transmitted to five DLCs located around the world with an approximate total of 150 classroom participants or more.
A Worthy Vision
As stated on the GDLN website, the organizationís vision "is for decision makers across the developing world to have affordable and regular access to a global network of peers, experts and practitioners with whom they may share ideas and experience that will help them in their work: to fight poverty."
The audience for GDLN programs is primarily adult professionals who are "senior policy makers and decision makers who work in institutions and are in a position to affect change in their country," says Joan Hubbard, WBIís senior partnership specialist for the Global Learning Department.
For the time being, GDLNís partners are not involved in the program for monetary value, but instead have altruistic propensities to help developing countries fight poverty and share in a truly global exchange of valuable information. However, partners do see working with GDLN as a beneficial process to test market their learning programs to different cultures and find out what kinds of knowledge can really be shared with developing countries. Additionally, involvement with GDLN helps institutions and organizations build international contacts and relationships that they may not have had the opportunity to develop otherwise. Plus, says Middleton, "you donít have to erect infrastructure because the infrastructure is already there."
North American institutions, for the most part, have been slow to react to GDLN. Part of the reason why is that, during its beginning phase, GDLN built relationships with WBIís already well-established partners in foreign countries who had an interest in distance education, says Middleton. Additionally, "the Europeans (for example), are more centralized and better able to make the link between the government and higher education. In the decentralized environment inside the United States it is a little more difficult to mobilize the kind of support for the institutions that we have been able to achieve in other countries."
As a possible spur to action, Middleton mentions that U.S. colleges and universities could try contacting the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) to possibly obtain financing for the development and delivery of U.S. higher educationís knowledge base through the GDLNís DLCs to enhance development assistance and knowledge sharing with foreign countries.
University of Alberta Taps CIDA
In Canada, for instance, the Canadian Industrial Development Agency (CIDA) recently contributed $5 million (Canadian) to the University of Alberta (UA) to help set up a DLC in Bosnia under GDLN. The new center, which brings in a partnership with the University of Sarajevo, will initially offer distance learning programs that focus on public and private-sector business management issues in the Balkans. "From CIDAís point of view it is a vehicle to do development in a slightly different way," says Terry Mackey, UAís Director of International Programs.
"We made the approach to CIDA," Mackey continues. "Itís something that we put into a proposal to CIDA, and they accepted it. I think they see the potential for using electronic learning in international development work."
Since UA has a major strategic initiative and commitment to the internationalization of its educational programs and research, GDLN brings an added dimension to help facilitate joint programming, says Mackey. "We see the possibilities for two-way processes. . . There is a lot of debate and discussion going on globally, and the potential for actually getting the researchers who are right at the front of the debate in contact with policy makers through video conferencing has enormous potential. So, from a university point of view, it is actually using what we do well, which is our research agenda, and making it more accessible to a much wider range of people."
U.S. On Board
Institutions in the U.S. are also staring to see the potential.
"As soon as we start talking about the benefits of bringing some global experience into their domestic programs, the lights go on," Hubbard says. "We recognize that institutions, particularly in the states, have to cover their costs, and we work very hard with them to ensure that they understand that they are not going to recover their costs in their first offering. But, if they look at this as a long-term relationship over a couple of years, they are going to more than cover their costs," she claims, adding that institutions will reap the benefits of participating in content building activities that will eventually gain acceptance over a wider worldwide network. "They (U.S. institutions) also know that we are the cheapest game in the international town. There is nowhere else they are going to reach these countries at rates that are as reasonable as ourís."
MSU Moving Forward
Once such institution that is investing in the future of GDLN is Michigan State University (MSU). Through MSUís relatively new Global Online Connection unit, three worthwhile distance learning programs are currently being developed for broadcast over the GDLN: a series of video conferences on the safety of organic foods, and two 16-week online courses, one in watershed concepts and another in international food law.
"All three programs have research projects internationally," says Chris Geith, director of MSUís Global Institute. "MSU has faculty exchanges with many universities around the world in these areas."
MSU has one of the largest programs in international studies in the country and is noted for being (among a long list of international education and research accomplishments) the largest recipient of USAID funding since the 1950s, as well for sending the largest number of students abroad from any single campus in the United States.
The planned watershed course, for example, will be taught by an international faculty, and it consists of local case studies and data collections from regions outside of the U.S. "We are not just exporting MSU research and knowledge to GDLN emerging countries," says Geith. "We are looking to use the network as a catalyst to work more closely with the researchers and scholars and officials in those topic areas that we already have going."
Howard University Joins Network of Networks This same practice holds true for Howard University, which is the home base for the first U.S. GDLN DLC.
In May of last year the Howard University College of Medicine, under the sponsorship of USAID and in partnership with a youth-led non-governmental organization called The African Futures Forum, along with the National Council of Negro Women, convened the first U.S.-university-based GDLN video-conference event, called the Global Youth Health Teleconference (GYHT). GYHT went over the GDLN bridge to DLCs in Benin, Uganda, Ghana and Senegal, Africa.
GYHT brought together more than 400 young people over the network who took part in a dialog on youth and HIV/AIDS, Women and HIV/AIDS, and Child Survival in their respective countries.
Luigi LeBlanc, technology coordinator for Howard Universityís Telehealth Sciences and Advanced Technology Center, says that the universityís College of Medicine has historically built relationships and partnerships around institutions in the Caribbean and in Africa.
"The GDLN presents a cost-effective venue to provide continual training and to actually reach these partners in real time, and we have been able to, through this venture, gain new partners," says LeBlanc. "The university here is preparing its staff to offer their expertise through this network. We are partnering with institutions to help put out programs that build on GDLNís concept of building a network of networks."
What kind of learning programs is the network seeking? GDLN Program Development Manager Claude Salem has put together an informational table representing the strategic priorities needed for building capacity for development in countries with DLCs. The table is divided into six broad categories of need: poverty reduction, economic management and financial sector development; governance and public sector reform; social sector and human development; environmental and rural development; private sector development; and other.
"I think U.S. institutions can contribute quite a bit since the areas in development are areas that are represented in their disciplines," says Salem. "Itís just a matter of how to package the material and how to make clients aware of the relevance of the materials."
"There are some areas that market very well," adds Middleton, pointing to learning programs in business management, health policy and education policy. Colleges and universities with an international dimension to such programs could be considered good candidates for a GDLN partnership.
"We are as open and broad and as wide in our interests as possible," says Hubbard. "You never know where there is going to be a good opportunity for content."
Overall, according to an excerpt from the GDLN annual report for fiscal year 2001, the World Bank, with more than 100 offices located throughout the world, "gave enhanced visibility and support to GDLN in their operational planning." Plans call for 27 more DLCs in fiscal year 2002, with a projected grand total of 80 DLCs on board by end of fiscal year 2003. "If secondary sites are included (national network sites linked to GDLN through the DLCs), the number of locations reached is expected to more than double that number (equaling 160) by the end of fiscal year 2003."
About the Author:
George Lorenzo is Editor and Publisher of Educational Pathways (EP), a monthly, paid subscription newsletter that covers higher education distance learning and teaching.
Copyright 2002. All rights reserved. Lorenzo Associates.