The Themes Of 15CCEM

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The Independent Online

Access

Providing full access to education is a challenge facing countries across the Commonwealth, and closing the gaps between those with access to education and those without is a priority for all the ministers meeting in Edinburgh this week.

Most Commonwealth countries experience some gaps in access to education - even in industrialised countries a few children slip through the net.

In countries with dispersed rural populations, many children live too far away to attend school daily. Many have essential work in the home. Some simply can't afford the cost of schooling or are too sick or disabled.

The Commonwealth of Learning (CoL) runs many programmes to improve access to education.

One such programme can be found in the Mountain Brown, a remote village high up in the mountains in a largely inaccessible area of Papua New Guinea.

In partnership with the Papua New Guinea Ministry of Education, CoL started a community radio station. The station broadcasts news, development information and community education to 2,000 citizens living in 10 neighbouring villages.

For the first time, these people have media enabling them to broadcast in their own language.

Inclusion

Mary Lennox and Sister Patricia Gribbin from Glasgow read that "Nigerian blind children run around freely, ride bicycles and climb frames of various types without fear of falling" in the British Journal of Visual Impairment. Inspired to find out if there were lessons to be learnt for Glasgow, they received a grant from the League of Exchange for Commonwealth Teachers and Glasgow City Council to visit Nigeria themselves.

Against the backdrop of a country struggling with poverty, they found blind children were able to receive an education through innovative methods, or even by sheer willpower.

There were many instances of blind children excelling in education, such as the two young women who graduated from the Notre Dame Secondary School for Girls and received scholarships in Boston, US. Another success story is Charles, who was born blind at a local missionary hospital, educated at the Pacelli School for the Blind in Lagos and is now at college in Ibadan. As the eldest child, his concern is not for himself, but for his mother and siblings.

Mary and Sister Patricia saw young visually impaired children dance barefoot on rough terrain at a school opening. They were struck by the complete confidence with which these children danced, their sure-footed steps leading the rest of their bodies.

A meeting with Sister Michela at St Philip's Nursery and Primary School in Uzairue provided inspiration for a new project. Sister Michela sought out African storybooks during a visit to the US and was developing a library for impoverished schools in the area. She was interested in the idea of story sacks, which are used by visually-impaired children in Glasgow.

Now with British Council funding, Mary and Sister Patricia are making new story sacks reflecting African and Scottish cultures to be shared by children in Glasgow and Uzairue.

Achievement

Even in some of the wealthiest Commonwealth countries, there are huge variations in education opportunity and attainment. Factors having an impact on attainment, in both developed and developing countries, include poverty, poor quality physical resources (such as buildings and classrooms), an absence of parental support, peer bullying, lack of training and support for teachers, low standards of teaching and low expectations of learners.

The goal for all Commonwealth countries is to maximise individual potential, while accepting that each person will achieve to a different level from others. There are a number of schemes across the member states that have been designed to help students achieve their own best possible results.

One such programme is the Canada Caribbean Distance Education Scholarship Programme, a programme piloted by the Commonwealth of Learning (COL) which designs curricula for Caribbean scholarship students. The programme is administered by the COL and funded by the Canadian Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade.

The programme emphasises lifelong learning and addresses skill shortages in a regional job market with high unemployment to maximise individual potential. It works with different partners, including three open learning Canadian universities, the University of the West Indies and four Caribbean governments. The Canadian universities have designed the curricula. The host governments generally select the scholarship recipients themselves.

Students receive materials through a variety of media, and "meet" instructors and fellow students in scheduled chatroom sessions.

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