Distance Education for Asia

with World Bank and Japanese Government Grants

Steve McCarty

Professor, Kagawa Junior College, Japan

世界銀行及び日本政府の基金によるアジアのための遠隔教育

スティーブ・マッカーティ

香川短期大学教授

 

Abstract  This presentation will discuss limitations and opportunities surrounding current public projects to provide distance education from Japan to developing countries in Asia. The World Bank recommends that Global Development Learning Network (GDLN) grantees use WebCT as well as teleconferencing. Participants can see GDLN Japan course  contents utilizing WebCT, ask questions about public grants for distance education, and brainstorm how to collaborate to improve educational outcomes.

 

Keywords  Distance Education, Japan, Asia, GDLN, J-Net, WebCT (English and Japanese versions)

 

In recent times the primary means of transmission for seminars from Japan to other Asian countries has been teleconferencing by satellite with an expensive dedicated infrastructure and similar hardware necessary in each studio. Considering that about half of humanity lives in the Asian region, gathering small numbers of elite participants cannot contribute much to relieving the global digital divide.

 

The World Bank Global Development Learning Network (GDLN) [1], with a million US dollars actually originating in Japan, offered a grant for 2002-2003 to provide seminars from Tokyo to Distance Learning Centers in four Asian capital cities [2]. The World Bank Institute recommends that, in addition to teleconferencing, grant applicants use WebCT or an alternative learning management system (LMS), as implemented for example at the Chile Virtual University.


 

Web-based approaches have the potential for much greater access, documentation of course contents, and flexible educational methodologies. In late February 2003 WebCT announced that "[w]ith WebCT, the AVU [African Virtual University] begins extensive migration of its satellite-based distance-learning programs to the Web, making them more convenient, cost-effective, and pervasive" [3]. Yet the unfamiliarity of decision-makers as well as learners with a complex system such as WebCT can still result in learners missing the opportunity for empowerment with course tools utilizing 21st Century information and communication technologies (ICT).  

 

The availability of public grants from the World Bank or the Japanese government is not widely publicized, so mainly those with inside information or involved in e-learning networks such as the Advanced Learning Infrastructure Consortium (ALIC) [4], may find out about grants offered. The presenter, with past experience in using WebCT, was on the team that won the GDLN grant for Japan over NTT and Mitsubishi Research Institute. But among so few applicants, all were companies, with a few university educators in our case under an NPO that is itself under a company receiving the funds. If the opportunity were more widely known, perhaps a group of university researchers with distance education expertise could do a better job, and not just for the money.

 

The J-Net project of the Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA) [5] under the Japanese Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MOFA) is similar to GDLN and collaborates with the World Bank Institute to benefit from the WBI’s greater experience with distance education. Here also the program is not widely publicized, so there is not much competition yet, but some university professors have been involved along with NPOs and companies as brokers and support staff.

 

Though Japanese ODA administered by JICA is decreasing, its direction is changing from dams and so forth to more humanitarian projects including education. The emphasis is on basic education, and JICA plans to support K-12 education in Afghanistan, through a little-known agreement whereby the U.S. covers higher education there. Related documents by the MOFA and the Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology assume that Japan would help set up the telecommunications and Internet infrastructure, yet there is no mention of educational technology, evidently because they have little knowledge of the field. Educators with distance education expertise looking for such grants should follow the JICA Website and find out about briefings such as have taken place for the J-Net project.

 

There may be a similar tendency in governments, but the World Bank shows an acute concern for protocol and staying within channels, such that different GDLN groups in the world cannot readily make contact to learn from one another. Such information does not appear at their Website, and an e-mail enquiry to the WBI was not answered. A Google Web search became necessary.

 

Secrecy also tends to prevail among grantees, as if to avoid increasing competition for future grants. The World Bank encouraged the Japan group to publicize the project, and a national newspaper article could easily be imagined, but no such publicity has been sought. Beyond public relations, questions could be raised about the cost-benefit ratio of the project, or the international goodwill generated along with educational outcomes.

 

Among the structural limitations of distance education for Asia, besides reaching so few people, there are various obstacles in communication to consider beyond the course contents. Chief among these is the necessity of English medium instruction as a lingua franca among Asians who are not native speakers. Where both instructors and learners are non-native users of English, the Japan side needs native speakers or bilinguals, which is considered in the application evaluation process for such grants.

 

Furthermore, in teleconferencing that spans from Washington, D.C. to Sri Lanka, for example, a Distance Learning Center may suffer audio difficulties or miss some part of the carefully prepared presentation. Cultural attitudes can also result in less cooperation than expected. Historical factors may sustain a sense of rivalry that is not conducive to mutual learning. The assumed hierarchy in Asia from teacher to student may be uncomfortable to Asians who feel that they are less wealthy than the Japanese, but not less knowledgeable.  There was a complaint from China about the quality of a lecture by a Japanese professor, but the Chinese could give the learning opportunity to those less elite and with more to learn. With Japan’s declining economic strength, there may be a perception of less to learn from Japan, but that misses the point in a way. The purpose of these educational sessions, whether by teleconference or Web-based, should include encouraging better communication between representatives of different countries. Then both the respect and the learning could be mutual.

 

There seems to have been a limited educational impact of large sums of GDLN grant money thus far. Other projects such as JICA’s J-Net with less distance education experience are also liable to encounter difficulties in helping Asia directly with people.

 

Japan’s assistance tends to be not personnel but cash or loans granted to foreign governments or international agencies, such as UNESCO in Bangkok [6] to help relieve the digital divide in Asia [7]. Much ODA is made available through applications to local JICA offices in foreign countries, but Japanese educators as well as businesspeople can seek grants in partnership with local projects abroad [8].

 

The positive purpose of this presentation is to alert those with more distance education expertise to find out about and to apply for these grant opportunities. How would university professors do things differently from current company and NPO grantees? Perhaps there would still be a concern to observe protocols, but a larger percentage of grant funds could go to research, experimentation, staff support, and actual educational activities, while teleconferencing studio rentals could be minimized in favor of Web-based events. 

 

In the brief remaining time the presenter would like to show some course contents utilizing the WebCT English and Japanese versions. Then questions and comments are welcome to brainstorm how we might collaborate [9] in improving the educational effectiveness of public grants for distance education.


 

Example WebCT Administrative Interface for the

Global Development Learning Network / Japan

 

Designer Interface Home Page of the presenter’s WebCT

Japanese version course, hosted by Nagoya University [10]

 


References/URLs

 

[1] Global Development Learning Network

[World Bank]: http://www.gdln.org/

[2] GDLN Partnership with Japan
http://www.padeco-japan.org/padeco.htm

[3] African Virtual University selects WebCT

as its e-learning platform (WebCT.com news release):
http://www.webct.com/service/ViewContent?contentID=14903891
[4] Advanced Learning Infrastructure Consortium

(Membership in working groups is free, and

anyone interested may join online):

[English site, although ALIC functions in Japanese]:
http://www.alic.gr.jp/eng/index.htm
先進学習基盤協議会 [ALIC in Japanese]:
http://www.alic.gr.jp/
[5] Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA):
http://www.jica.go.jp/english/
JICA
国際協力事業団 [in Japanese]:
http://www.jica.go.jp/Index-j.html
[6] ICT for Education in Asia-Pacific

(UNESCO, Bangkok):

http://www.unesco.org/bangkok/education/ict/

See also: East Asia Global Distance Education Network
Open University of Hong Kong [supported by the  

Commonwealth of Learning and the World Bank]:
http://www.ouhk.edu.hk/cridal/gdenet/index.htm
東アジア・グローバル通信教育ネットワーク:
http://www.ouhk.edu.hk/cridal/gdenet/japanese/
[7] JICA seminar &
Japan's digital divide plan for July Okinawa Summit
http://www.friends-partners.org/utsumi/gu-l/mid-2000/5-24-a.html
[8] Grass Roots Fund of the Japanese government
http://www.friends-partners.org/utsumi/gu-l/late-1999/12-10-a.html

Grant Assistance for Grassroots Projects
http://www.mofa.go.jp/policy/oda/category/g_roots/
See also: Japan Social Development Fund (JSDF)

[through the World Bank]:
http://www.worldbank.org/rmc/jsdf/index.htm

[9] Global University System (GUS)

Asia-Pacific Framework

(the presenter represents GUS in Japan):
http://www.kagawa-jc.ac.jp/~steve_mc/asia-pacific/
内海武士博士の基本計画(グローバル大学機構)

[Background in Japanese]:
http://www.kagawa-jc.ac.jp/~steve_mc/asia-pacific/projects-j.html
Global University System
Asia-Pacific News & Links
http://www.kagawa-jc.ac.jp/~steve_mc/asia-pacific/links.html
World Association for Online Education (NPO)

(the presenter is the WAOE President since 1998):  
http://www.waoe.org/
世界オンライン教育学会 [WAOE in Japanese]:
http://www.waoe.org/japanese/index.html

* Please e-mail the presenter to collaborate: waoe@waoe.org

[10] Welcome Page for WebCT Japanese version experimental

online course: Interactive Basic English Composition

インタラクティブ基礎英作文 [Japanese-English]:
http://webct.media.nagoya-u.ac.jp:8900/public/te024p/

 

 

Return to online publications in English:

http://www.kagawa-jc.ac.jp/~steve_mc/epublist.html

or in Japanese:

http://www.kagawa-jc.ac.jp/~steve_mc/jpublist.html