As the third month of my visit to COL started, I was even more excited to work. There were further meetings and conclusions too.
Meeting with Dr. Mairette Newman: Education Specialist VUSSC
We met and talked about the Diploma in Open Schooling Operations and Management which is already available on VUSSC platform. VUSSC is the Virtual University of the Small States of the Commonwealth. We explored the possibilities of launching the course as an online course on Swayam platform. Swayam is the Government of India platform for free learning (www.swayam.gov.in). It was concluded that the diploma course can be adapted according to the Swayam guidelines.
During the month I assisted Dr. Johan Hendrikz, Senior Advisor: Open Schooling with a small desktop research on the number of open schools in the Commonwealth nations and a Comparative study on the countries on COL’s agenda for the next cycle of the Open Innovative Schooling initiative. It was data collection and comparison of these countries – Jamaica, Dominica, St Vincent and the Grenadines, Grenada, Nigeria, Malawi, Papua New Guinea.
I attended a meeting of Education Sector where the education specialists discussed their unspent budgets, activities to be done and their travel plans to their core countries.
Dr. Johan also gave me an overview of the development of ODL Policy in Vanuatu. The processes COL follows to contact the Ministry of different countries.
Dr. Johan also arranged a skype meeting with Dean Dundas in London where he gave me an excellent demonstration of the Notesmaster platform and he also offered to give a presentation to the NIOS staff later. He was too keen to know about NIOS, its structure, and various processes.
I completed a Gender Course at COL which is compulsory for all members of COL staff.
I also had a series of meetings with Dr. K. Balasubramanian, Vice-President, Commonwealth of Learning, Ms. Alexis Carr, Research Co-ordinator and Ms. Naa Adjeley, Programme Assistant for Green Teacher-Gender Project and the course of action.
I also visited some of the open schools in British Columbia.
Visit to BC Open School
It was a beautiful ferry ride from Vancouver (Tsawwassen) to Victoria (Swartz Bay) to visit BC Open school.
BC Open School is a part of Ministry of Education in British Columbia. We visited BC Open School in Victoria on 14th March 2018 and met Jennifer Riddel, A/Director, Open School BC, Ministry of Education and Mario Miniaci, Director, Learning Division, Custom Programs and Projects, Ministry of Education.
It was an interactive meet and they gave us enough opportunities to know about their system and processes.
It was interesting to note that Canada doesn’t have a national education strategy. Canadian federalism doesn’t allow for a formal federal department of education. Education is within the provincial jurisdiction and the curriculum is overseen by the province. Education in Canada is divided into primary, secondary and post-secondary. Within the province under the ministry of education, there are district school boards administering the educational programs.
BC Open School is an educational publisher operating on a cost recovery basis. They create educational resources and services for BC School system and the public sector organizations. They provide both online training and print publication. They also help with educational publishing needs. They provide with project management, instructional design, content, and media development, print and online delivery and e-learning system. They have K-12 self-directed courses which comply with the BC Ministry of Education outcomes.
BC Open School was providing courses to other open schools in BC but now most of the open schools are developing their new courses according to the revised guidelines. BC’s K-12 education system is being modernized with new curriculum to make education flexible and innovative for the learners.
Visits to other Open Schools
Presently there are about 70 Distance Learning Schools in BC. They started with online learning way back that is about 15 years ago. We had a chance to visit some of them-
South Island Distance Education School (SIDES) ON 14th March 2018 at 13:30 hours. We met Karen Flello, Principal and Dave Eberwein, Superintendent of Schools.
SIDES has a team of teachers, counselors and support staff and are doing a commendable job having around 3,500 learners on roll. The students contact teachers and book appointments for classes. They ensure successful completion of online and paper-based courses. We had an opportunity to walk around the school. It was obvious that they have a conducive learning environment and they are providing good opportunities for personalized learning to their learners working with much compassion and interest. It was an interactive session for about two hours and there was still more to talk.
North Vancouver Distributed Learning School (NVDL) on 15th March 2018 at 8:30 hours. Maureen Stanger, Principal; Lucas King, Vice Principal and Natasha participated.
NVDL provides a combination of online and face-to-face interactions to create a blended approach to learning to over 2,500 students. Distributed learning began about 12 years ago in North Vancouver. BC Education plan and other district initiatives led to the creation of Distributed Learning school. They aim at making learners self-dependant and encourage them for life-long learning.
The visit began with Coffee while Maureen made an interesting presentation. She gave us an overview of their LMS, Virtual classroom, course development, and various technological tools. ‘Parents as partners’, is their new initiative which is quite helpful for the parents.
The visit ended with a small tour of the school which was quite impressive.
Vancouver Learning Network (VLN) on 15th March 2018 at 1300 hours. Jim Rutley, Principal; Bell Chan, Faculty, Mandarin, Math, Physics; Suzie Mah, Elementary Teacher participated.
VLN is providing high quality, flexible and engaging education programs as an alternative to traditional learning to about 5000 students. All the courses are taught by Vancouver School Board teachers. All their courses are approved by BC Ministry of Education. Their courses are available to all BC students and are free for school-aged BC residents.
Jim introduced us to each staff member of VLN and made an excellent presentation too. He also showed us all processes and offices with much passion and interest. Bell Chan demonstrated their online platform and how it is used by teachers and learners. He also showed how the platform is used by teachers to create their own course content.
They were too inquisitive about NIOS and processes by which NIOS is able to manage more than 2.5 million learners. The visit ended with coffee and a treat. To know more about NIOS see our website www.nios.ac.in.
The open schools have a committed team of professionals who are presently working hard in revising or developing new courses according to the new BC curriculum. Majority of the students enrolled in the open schools in BC are cross-enrolled with the mainstream schools. They maintain a decent student-teacher ratio. However, teachers have to work hard to keep a record of each and every learner as the system allows for various entry and exit points to the learners. They have a diverse student population comprising of high achievers, special education, athletes, travelers, mental/health challenges, gamers and drug addicts. They have their own Learning Management System which is continuously updated to meet the needs of the learners.
Compared to NIOS the open school model is entirely different in BC which focuses on personalized learning environment for the learners. The open schools here may provide face-to-face classes on a regular basis depending on the needs of individual learners. They aim at maintaining strong student-teacher bonding to make education interesting and comfortable for learners. The visit was an enlightening one that gave me a first-hand experience of the working of the open schools of BC.
However, they have certain challenges too like distributed learning funding model & staff costs and rigorous audit requirements by the Ministry from time to time. Their provincial funding model is per course opted by the learner which is currently under review. Also, the open schooling environment here is quite competitive so they fear students going to other open schools which may result in decreased funding from the Ministry. But despite challenges, they are doing a remarkable work.
The open schools were very much impressed with a large number of learners in NIOS and asked a variety of questions to know how we work and cater to the needs of these numbers.
Sharing with the COL family
My visit to COL concluded with a presentation to the staff of COL and lunch with the President of COL, Prof. Asha Kanwar, and Director: Finance, Administration and Human Resources, Ms. Doris McEachern.
Thank you, COL.
To read more about NIOS see our website www.nios.ac.in