Education and learning are widely recognized as essential to
processes of development and poverty reduction.
In many developing countries, issues of educational access, equity, and
quality have been identified as prerequisites to the achievement of development
goals. Given the inadequacies of
conventional systems of education, training, and agricultural extension, many
developing countries have introduced innovative approaches to open and distance
Over the past decade, there has been a resurgence of
international interest in distance learning and distance education as
potentially useful strategies for addressing human development issues. This resurgence has been rooted in part in
the evolution of new information and communications technologies, and in part
in the improvement of pedagogical and administrative models for facilitating
learning at a distance.
In 2000 and 2001, the Food and Agriculture Organization of
the United Nations (FAO) surveyed the experiences of ODL for agriculture and
rural development in low-income countries [http://www.irrodl.org/content/v3.1/mclean.html]. From this survey, the FAO argued that, to be
effective in developing countries, ODL should:
Be undertaken for the right reasons;
Be sensitive to the context in which it is being
Make use of existing infrastructure, with
sustainable cost structures;
Engage stakeholders in participatory processes;
Use sound pedagogical and administrative models.
In recent years, there have been
numerous examples of institutions in developing countries using ODL strategies
to address the challenges of agricultural development and rural poverty
reduction. We believe that much could be
learned from identifying the common elements of successful innovation and best
practice from leading institutions in this field.
This paper is a product of research sponsored by the Commonwealth of Learning
and supported by the Food and Agriculture Organization (Regional Office for Asia and the Pacific), and the University of the
Philippines Open University. The
research for this paper was focused on case studies prepared of the following
Institute of Agricultural Extension Management, India (MANAGE)
Iqbal Open University,
- The Open Academy for Philippine Agriculture
of the South Pacific, School of Agriculture and Food Technology, Samoa (SAFT)
The collaborating researchers engaged in the production of
the case studies were:
Dr. Shyamal Majumdar and Dr. V.P. Sharma
- AIOU: Dr. Benjamina
Dr. Alexander Flor
Dr. Kamolrat Intaratat
Mr. Aaron Kama
The primary objective of the research project was to
understand and improve the application of ODL strategies to the challenges of
agricultural development and rural poverty reduction.
In this paper, prepared for the Fourth Pan-Commonwealth
Forum on Open Learning (2006), we outline the case studies completed for this
project, provide a synthesis of the common findings from the studies, and
provide our conclusions and recommendations.
The complete paper, and the five case studies upon which it is based, is
available at the following URL: http://www.upou.org/research/odlforagri.htm.
Summary of the Case Studies
The National Institute of Agricultural Extension Management
(MANAGE), is a premier national institution of the Indian Ministry of
Agriculture. The mandate of the Institute is to develop, test and implement
innovative extension systems and models in India. In the last five years, MANAGE has tested the
innovative use of ICTs to enhance the communication capacity of the
agricultural extension system in the country.
MANAGE has installed and used a videoconferencing system connecting 40
national centres of excellence in the areas of agriculture and agricultural
extension and training. MANAGE has also
piloted the use of mobile videoconferencing to directly link farmers with
researchers and policy makers. With
costs falling for these technologies, such innovations present a huge
opportunity for improving the communication capacity of agricultural extension
The innovative features of the MANAGE case study focus on:
Collaboration: a high level of networking
with state agricultural universities, non-governmental organizations, research
institutions, international agencies, and public and private sector
Efficiency: an organizational structure
based on modest base budgeted staff and resources, blended with the extensive
use of consultants and contractual arrangements.
Effective use of technology for learning:
making best use of state-of-the-art ICTs, including video conferencing
networks, a mobile VSAT van, and information kiosks using Wireless-in-Local Loop (WILL) technology.
The Allama Iqbal Open
University (AIOU), established in 1974, was the first distance education
post-secondary institution in Asia and Africa.
It is Pakistan’s
response to filling the gaps left by the conventional system and taking
education to areas and groups unable to benefit from that system of education.
AIOU has received the UNESCO NOMA and Raja Roy Sing awards, recognizing their
achievements especially developing a teacher training program and more than 400
courses for illiterates and semi-literates. Program offerings range from
secondary to PhD levels consisting of 1000 courses to choose from. Since it
started, cumulative enrolment now stands at more than 23 million students. The Pakistan experience has shown how a
poor country can take advantage of distance education as an alternative mode of
developing the capacities of its people for greater productivity. Inasmuch as
traditions greatly impede women from enjoying equal rights with men, distance
education has explicitly been utilized to address those inequities. Given its
topography, and its increasing population living in mountainous areas where
educational facilities and access to information is scarce, distance education
is of great benefit.
The innovative features of AIOU at the heart of this case
sensitivity: AIOU has achieved substantial success in promoting the
education of Pakistani women.
education: AIOU has successfully developed and delivered courses and
programs to illiterate and semi-literate people in rural areas.
reach: AIOU courses and programs are made available to rural and
remote villages, despite the considerable challenges of a mountainous
AIOU generates nearly 90% of its budget through sources other than
The Open Academy for
Philippine Agriculture (OPAPA) is a network of institutions providing
education, training and extension in agriculture, specifically to researchers,
extension workers, farmers, and support service providers. It is an alliance of
national, local, and international organizations that will utilize and tap
existing network infrastructures, their content and information databases, in
an open environment using ICT and distance learning. It links policymakers,
researchers, service providers, markets, business organizations, and farm
communities. The Philippine Rice Research Institute serves as the lead agency
assisted by several partners representing government line agencies, the
academe, international agricultural research agencies, and the private sector
The innovative features of the OPAPA case study are:
- Networking: OPAPA has brought
together an unprecedented network of government agencies, academic
institutions, and corporate businesses.
- Public / private sector partnerships:
OPAPA has partnered with SMART (mobile phone provider), and numerous
Internet Cafés to serve as a sustainable and practical venue for training
- Last mile linkages: OPAPA has
successfully used a remarkable blend of communications technologies (from
radio to cellular telephony) to reach even remote farmers.
Open University (STOU) was formally established in 1978 as the first
university in Southeast Asia to use open and
distance learning. The STOU system is
the eleventh state university
of Thailand, and has a
mandate to serve life-long education, to improve the quality of life of the
population, to upgrade the educational and professional qualifications of
working people and to expand educational opportunities at all levels. STOU uses the following open and distance
learning strategies: self-learning package, radio programs, television
programs, satellite programs, CAI, audio and video on demand, online learning,
professional experience activities, and tutorials. In addition, face-to-face educational
services are provided at study centers, regional distance education centers,
provincial study centers, and the “STOU corners” in main public and high school
libraries across Thailand. STOU services are provided all over the
country, to ensure access to quality education to all Thai people.
The best practices of the STOU case study relate to the
following key features of the institution:
and partnerships: STOU engages in partnerships with a broad range of
organizations and individuals.
Practicality of learning: STOU courses and programs are focused on the
practical needs of the learners.
Accessibility: STOU courses and programs
are accessible to various kinds of learners scattering around the country,
making the institution known as the “People’s University.”
Acceptability: STOU courses and programs
are appropriate to the skills and lifestyles of participating students.
Validity of content: STOU courses and
programs have high quality subject-matter content, such that graduates are
recognized by Thai society.
Economics: STOU makes its courses and
programs available at an affordable price, to serve its mission of “to open
opportunities for all”.
The University of the
South Pacific, School of Agriculture and Food Technology (SAFT) in Samoa is a premier regional
institution for providing tertiary education in agriculture to 12 Pacific Island
countries: Cook Islands, Fiji,
Kiribati, Marshall Islands, Nauru,
Niue, Samoa, Solomon
Islands, Tokelau, Tonga, Tuvalu
As one of the Schools of the University, its mission is to maintain, advance
and disseminate knowledge through teaching, consultancy and research and
otherwise, the provision at appropriate levels of education and training
responsive to the well-being and needs of the communities of the South Pacific.
The School of Agriculture and Food Technology, through
its distance and flexible learning (DFL) initiatives, has provided agriculture
degree courses to potential technical agriculture staff, extension staff,
agricultural science teachers, and many others who come from agriculture
related areas. DFL courses are currently offered through print-based materials
and supplemented by audio-visual materials, satellite tutorials, and
audio-conferencing. In the near future, SAFT will start offering its courses
The innovative features of SAFT outlined in this case study
- Collaboration: SAFT works closely
with government departments, other secondary and post-secondary
educational institutions, non-governmental organizations, and regional
agencies to support the ODL experiences of students.
- Geographic reach: SAFT uses
correspondence and audio-conferencing systems to make courses available
across twelve countries and massive distances.
- Practicality of learning: SAFT
courses and programs are focused on preparing professionals and
technicians to undertake key roles with public and private sector
employers in agriculture and food systems across the Pacific.
Synthesis of Common Findings
From the case studies undertaken for this project, common
elements of successful innovation and best practice in ODL for rural poverty reduction
are summarized by the five simple principles defined in the introduction to
Starting with the
In the context of the contemporary development of new
information and communications technologies, there is a danger that ODL initiatives
might be driven by the availability or attractiveness of innovative
technologies, rather than by the educational needs of individuals and
communities. It is important that ODL
initiatives be firmly grounded at the intersection of the sponsoring
organizations’ mission, and the needs and aspirations of the individuals and
communities to be involved in such initiatives.
In some cases, ODL strategies are appropriate, cost-effective, and
sustainable means to address people’s needs and aspirations. In other cases, another approach would be more
suitable. Ultimately, in the quest to
reduce poverty and promote the sustainable development of agriculture, ODL
should be seen as a means to an end.
Being sensitive to
There is no universally appropriate model for designing and
delivering distance education initiatives.
The potential target audiences for ODL initiatives for agricultural
development and rural poverty reduction is very broad indeed, ranging from
farmers and marginalized rural populations, to relatively privileged urban
professionals such as policy makers and information managers. It is essential that the form of ODL selected
be appropriate to the particular context in which it is being applied.
ODL models and practices must be adapted to the social,
cultural, economic and political circumstances of learners and their
environment. In practical terms, the
need for sensitivity to context means accepting the fact that “one size” does
not “fit all.” In working with various
groups of learners and various programmatic and learning objectives, it is
necessary to develop the capacity to use more than one set of instructional
methods, more than one delivery strategy, more than one learner support
strategy, and so forth.
Using sustainable infrastructure
Infrastructure is important to ODL initiatives. On the one hand, infrastructure involves
technologies such as telephone lines, broadcasting facilities, and Internet
connectivity. On the other hand,
infrastructure involves the organizational capacity to manage and administer
learning at a distance. Technological
infrastructure for ODL is closely related to the delivery strategies through
which instructional and learner support services are provided. Educational institutions are rarely able to
sustain independent systems of communication for the delivery of ODL
initiatives. Rather, delivery strategies
for ODL initiatives should be developed according to the communications
infrastructure that is currently available, reliable and affordable to the
learners who will take part in the initiative.
Often, entertainment and commercial sectors create such infrastructure,
and educational institutions can make use of it.
Just as infrastructure is important, so is money. It is essential that ODL initiatives be
organized in a manner that the ongoing full costs of delivering and sustaining
the initiatives will be matched or exceeded by the revenues that the
initiatives will attract. There are
essentially three sources of revenue for ODL initiatives: tuition or other fees
paid by learners themselves; tuition or other fees paid by the parents or the
employers of the learners; and indirect support to the learners paid by
governments, corporate sponsors, or donor agencies. Through some combination of these sources,
ODL initiatives must generate sufficient revenues to sustain themselves over
The need for participatory and empowering educational
practice was identified by FAO (1999) in a guide entitled Participatory Curriculum Development in Agricultural Education. The guide categorizes general groups of
stakeholders in curriculum development processes as the “insiders” (leaders
with training organizations, teachers, students, producers of educational
materials), and the “outsiders” (policy-makers, politicians, educational
administrators, educational experts, employers, professional bodies, clients,
funding agencies, parents, past students and interest groups). Early in the analysis of a potential ODL
intervention, it is important to identify the stakeholders, understand those
stakeholders’ diverse interests, and develop a process through which such
stakeholders will be represented in the planning, implementation and evaluation
of the intervention. The process of identifying,
understanding and involving stakeholders helps to ensure that distance
education initiatives are undertaken for the right reasons, are sensitive to
the contexts of learners and their environments, and are sustainable.
pedagogical and administrative models
There has been a substantial number and range of ODL
experiences over the past several decades in developing countries. While ideal models and practices have yet to
be developed, practitioners and scholars have done much to critically examine
ODL and make its application more appropriate to diverse circumstances around
the world. Over the past decade, the
practice of ODL in both developed and developing countries has evolved
Conclusions and Recommendations
First, to be undertaken properly,
it is important that ODL initiatives aimed at rural poverty reduction and
agricultural development follow the five principles defined by the FAO in 2001
(see the introduction to this paper).
We recommend that COL and other stakeholders to this project
promote widespread commitment to these five basic principles of ODL in
initiatives related to rural poverty reduction and agricultural development.
Second, the five case studies developed for this project
clearly indicate that successful innovations and best practices have been
achieved by a number of institutions in Asia
and the Pacific. The keywords that run
through these case studies are: collaboration, networking, public/private
partnerships, efficiency, effective use of technology for learning,
practicality of learning, accessibility, acceptability, validity of content,
economics, gender sensitivity, basic education, geographic reach, and
sustainability. Such keywords, in the
context of the basic ODL principles, provide important guidance to those
seeking strategies to address the challenges of rural poverty reduction and
We recommend that COL and other stakeholders to this project
work to develop further understanding of innovation and best practice related
to ODL for rural poverty reduction and agricultural development around the
Third, as this report indicates, knowledge about such
successful innovations and best practices could be usefully and economically
disseminated throughout the world. There
are a range of options for the dissemination of such knowledge, including:
website to be developed as part of the project itself (with the synthesis
paper and the complete case studies).
publication of project documents.
of a summary paper in a scholarly or professional journal.
at conferences where leaders and professionals from pertinent
organizations are in the audience.
workshops for specific stakeholders.
establishment of an on-line community of practice, with members drawn from
various institutions from across Asia and
We recommend that COL and other stakeholders to this project
explore and pursue these options for the dissemination of knowledge regarding
successful innovation and best practice in ODL for rural poverty reduction and
Fourth, such dissemination would contribute to
capacity-building efforts, and ultimately to a stronger role for ODL strategies
in the pursuit of agricultural development and rural poverty reduction in
developing countries. To replicate or
adapt what has been demonstrated by these five case studies would require other
institutions to engage in strategic planning and capacity-building
exercises. Strategic planning would be
important in order to determine how some of the innovations and best practices
described in this report would fit different institutional missions,
environments, and cultures. Adopting
such innovations and best practices would require the investment of resources,
and a strategic planning process would help institutions organize for the
mobilization, monitoring, and evaluation of such investments.
Beyond strategic planning, capacity development will be
required in order to ensure that the institution and its staff members are
prepared to successfully adopt such innovations and best practices. By institutional capacity building we refer
to developing the knowledge, skills, and attitudes of leaders and staff
members, as well as to facilitating organizational development such that an
institution is better able to support the work of its staff and partners.
We recommend that COL and other stakeholders to this project
promote holistic and integrated processes of strategic planning and capacity
building among institutions having a mandate to apply ODL methods to the
challenges of rural poverty reduction and agricultural development.