Greetings from Dr. Federico Mayor, Director General of UNESCO
GLH Costa Rica, 10/25/95

Greetings to the participants in the 1995 "Global Lecture Hall"! On behalf of UNESCO, I wish to say something on this year's theme -- Technology and Distance Education: Sharing Experiences around the World -- since I believe educational development through the sharing of knowledge to be one of the keys to a more equitable and peaceful world.

Distance education has progressed a great deal in recent years, and UNESCO can claim to have made some contribution to this process. As the UN specialized agency responsible for international cooperation in education, communication, science and culture, it is particularly well placed to play a role in this area, where inputs from a variety of disciplines are required.

The "new media" have demonstrated their potential to contribute to effective learning. But it has become clear that their effective use is crucially dependent on good instructional design. Experience has also shown that imagination and political will are essential if inertia is to be overcome and educational alternatives are to be properly exploited. This is why one of the aims of UNESCO's Learning Without Frontiers program is to change the policy environment so that the technology of the classroom is no longer seen as the only option available to educational planners.

We need to explore all possible means to reach out to the massive numbers of people around the globe who are deprived of opportunities to learn. There are still almost one billion illiterate people in the world. One hundred thirty million children of primary-school age do not attend school. The demand for learning opportunities is constantly rising, but the cost of delivering education by conventional means makes it impossible for many countries to satisfy the growing demand.

The largest proportion of the unreached live in parts of the world that are difficult to reach by any means -- conventional or modern. To solve problems in these areas, we need solutions that are both affordable and accessible. If appropriate measures are not taken, there is a risk that the developing global information infrastructure will bypass the 600,000 villages without electricity and simply widen the knowledge gap still further. While it is important to explore the potential benefits to education of the emerging information superhighways, we must also think about creating the infrastructure that reaches out to remote communities which have so far had little contact with modern technology. As we move rapidly into the information age, old divisions between the haves and the have-nots are being replaced by new ones -- between those who are and are not connected. The challenge is not simply to find suitable hardware solutions, but also to prepare communities to become technologically literate. Alternative energy technologies, such as solar powered communication devices, have an important role to play here.

The search for media solutions to educational problems must not be dissociated from the learning context itself. What is required is the creation of examples of good educational practice, using the technological solutions in question. This is what impresses policy-makers and decision-makers. It is also important to show that significant cost savings will result from such applications.

Together with the International Telecommunications Union, UNESCO is currently involved in developing technologies within relevant educational contexts. For example, we are currently setting up a pilot project on the Educational Application of Interactive Television for implementation in South Africa. Partnerships among countries are important for the dissemination of innovative approaches. They allow countries to learn from each other, to collaborate on developments and to create unprecedented economies of scale for applications such as satellite communication. This is the rationale behind UNESCO's involvement in the Joint Initiative on Distance Education of the Nine High-Population Countries. Like the Interactive TV project, this nine-country initiative is part of UNESCO's Learning Without Frontiers programme. The participating countries -- Bangladesh, China, India, Indonesia, Pakistan, Egypt, Nigeria, Brazil and Mexico -- make up half the world's population and include almost three quarters of its illiterate people. By cooperating, these countries have created an excellent environment for new technological applications to achieve global impact.

Finally, one of the most important features of emerging technologies is their potential to make the learning environment more interactive and flexible. Dialogue is one of the most powerful stimuli for the development of the mind. It is probably the main area in which traditional distance education has been found wanting. Thanks to recent technological developments, we are finally capable of making a real breakthrough in this area and of creating an effective global learning environment to which everyone will have access, anywhere, at any time, at any age, in any circumstance.

Lifelong learning for all -- this is the goal. We are delighted to be associated with partners such as the Consortium for the Advancement of Affordable Distance Education (CAADE) and the Global University in promoting our shared objective.

Transcript provided by Jan Visser, UNESCO,

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March 1997

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