Distinguished participants, colleagues and observers,
It gives me great pleasure to welcome all of you to the FAO Regional Office for Asia and the Pacific, and to this regional workshop on Open and Distance Learning for Agricultural Development and Rural Poverty Reduction: A Workshop to Explore Innovation and Best Practice in Asia and the Pacific.
Let me start by highlighting the important collaboration and partnership among the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, the University of the Philippines Open University and the University of Saskatchewan, Canada in convening this very important workshop today. This initiative started when members of the three institutions collaborated on a project implemented in China between 2002 and 2004 by FAO and the Chinese Broadcast and Television School (or CABTS). The project focused on strengthening distance education in agriculture and rural development in the largest distance learning institution in the world, CABTS. This activity was a manifestation of the excellent collaboration among the three institutions, including the strong conviction of the important role that open and distance education can have in educating rural populations as a means for promoting positive change.
Ladies and gentlemen,
I would like to mention at the outset that FAO is convinced of the important role education plays in agricultural development and rural poverty reduction. We believe that without addressing the education of people living in the rural areas, often the majority of the population in many countries, little can be achieved to reach the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) by 2015, especially MDG 1 relating to the reduction of poverty and hunger and MDG 2 on achieving universal primary education. It is this conviction that led FAO to accept the invitation from UNESCO to be the United Nation’s lead technical agency for the special flagship programme under the global Education For All (EFA) initiative that concentrates its attention on “Education For Rural People” (or ERP). ERP is about people and is implemented via a “partnership approach” in which FAO, UNESCO and now over 200 agencies and institutions around the world – including public, private, civil society and non-governmental organizations – join hands. ERP gives attention to the specific educational needs of people living in rural areas or settings, often far removed from urban locations, whose circumstances necessitate innovative support to ensure that they too are provided with education and training of high quality. The programme is unique and very challenging as many of the target stakeholders of rural education are poor.
Aside from its relevance to education for rural people, this workshop also addresses an area related to FAO’s Strategies for Bridging the Rural Digital Divide where new information and communications technologies (or ICTs) can be appropriately applied to enhance education and information access. In this regard, FAO and partners are working to seek and develop relevant interventions to reduce the “digital divide” through content mobilization and capacity building. Moreover, FAO is improving the effectiveness of its own operational programme in the field.
The goals of the workshop are to advance knowledge about the use of distance education strategies for agricultural development and rural poverty reduction in Asia and the Pacific and to prepare a program of work for a research project to examine these issues more closely.
The workshop includes select researchers from five countries together with several key agencies and organizations to:
- present and exchange ideas regarding the application of open and distance learning (or ODL) strategies to the challenges of agricultural development and rural poverty reduction;
- provide a basic description of institutions having innovative programs / best practices in this field;
- develop a template for the completion of detailed case studies; and
- develop a detailed program of work for a subsequent research project in which these case studies will be completed.
Ladies and gentlemen,
The primary output of the workshop will be case studies that not only point to “best practices” in undertaking ODL to address agricultural development and rural poverty reduction but also, I hope, will develop a regional project to help institutions of higher learning in Asia and the Pacific region to improve on their delivery of ODL to rural populations. The focus of the regional project should include enhancement of access to quality education and training which in turn promotes equity as well as improved livelihood possibilities.
I am confident that our collective wisdom, expertise and joint mission will provide a firm foundation for building improved ODL for agricultural development and rural poverty reduction, as well as for sound project formulation and targeting of interested development partners.
I wish to recognize the financial support provided by the Commonwealth of Learning and the technical contributions by the partner organizations, including all the distinguished participants and fellow researchers here today. I wish you fruitful deliberations and look forward to seeing the outcomes of this workshop.