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UNESCO-UNEVOC e-Forum for Technical and Vocational Education Professionals

Organization(s)

International Centre for Technical and Vocational Education and Training (UNESCO-UNEVOC International Centre), Bonn, Germany

Country (ies) and institutions

Scope is Global; participation by hundreds of members of institutions active in the area of Technical and Vocational Education.

Diagram to describe how institutions were related to each other.

(If available) http://www.southsouthcases.info//ttssc/web/uploads/diagrams/

Overview

The UNEVOC e-Forum is an online forum and email list connecting professionals in Technical and Vocational Education and Training (TVET) from all over the world: policy-makers, researchers, practitioners, teachers, development workers, members of IGOs and NGOs etc. The forum provides a platform to share knowledge and best practices.

Background and set-up

In 1998-1999, the availability of electronic mail worldwide grew rapidly. This was also true for many developing countries. The "UNEVOC Project" was in touch with institutions and specialists in technical and vocational education and training in more than 100 countries. In October 1998, the UNESCO-UNEVOC Electronic Mail Forum ("e-Forum") was launched and it has been open to members of the TVET community from all over the world. Any TVET professional interested in international exchange of experiences is invited to join. Also, a number of representatives of intergovernmental and non-governmental organisations have participated in the e-Forum. In March 1999, some 140 experts from various parts of the world benefited from this worldwide exchange. The declared purpose of the initiative is to facilitate the international exchange of information and experience in TVET. Educators, researchers and other interested people around the world were given a forum to share information on a non-commercial basis using modern communication technologies. An interesting side-effect emerged. Via the e-Forum, TVET professionals from various world regions were able to identify colleagues in other regions with similar professional interests. Once identified, they were able to establish direct communication even without passing through the e-Forum. The focus has always been on giving policy-makers, practitioners, development workers, researchers and other experts access to knowledge and solutions so that they can improve their work on the ground in whatever area of TVET they are active and are able to find the partners they require. Due to the use of free software the costs were minimal both on the provider´s side (initially the "UNEVOC Project" and later the UNESCO-UNEVOC International Centre) and on the participants' side. The service has always been provided free of charge. The best proof of the success of the e-Forum is its continuing growing popularity and the increase in numbers of messages exchanged. Since its launch in 1998, it has grown steadily, from initially 140 members to more than 1700 from 160 countries as of May 2011. Despite the limited availability of internet technology in some parts of the world, about half of the members are from the developing world (see map at http://www.unevoc.unesco.org /emembers.php).

The partnership

The mailing list has always been hosted by UNEVOC. All emails transmitted were moderated by staff at the International Centre, a fact that has greatly contributed to the success of the e-Forum and is being appreciated by members. Participants of the e-Forum do not enter any formal agreement. They are not required to contribute and none of the members has ever been paid for their participation (except, of course, the moderators within UNEVOC). Besides UNEVOC, no other international or national institutions have ever been formally involved. Members of hundreds of organisations are participants of the list without a formal commitment. Nonetheless, the participation rate is high: about one fourth of the members participate actively by contributing messages.

Lessons learned

The innovation at the time was to use modern technology to connect people with others, even in less privileged areas. It is now becoming apparent that while some (mostly Northern) professionals may move on to using more "fashionable" and powerful online technologies and social networking tools (Twitter etc.), a mailing list such as the e-Forum still seems to be the best tool for the purpose of connecting TVET experts from all parts of the world. Part of the success is based on a high rate of activity. The ten most active forum members contributed more than 500 messages in 2010. Therefore, TVET experts have been and are getting access to expert knowledge that would otherwise hardly be accessible for them. By providing a platform for learning and access to knowledge, the e-Forum effectively enables participants to implement change. As an e-Forum member puts it (unedited): "The amount of insight and perspective I've received from this forum is both immeasurable and invaluable. I can't think of any other way I would have obtained such information on international practice without leaving the country and spending thousands of hard earned dollars (taxpayers or mine)." (Tepora Afamasaga from Samoa in a contribution to the e-Forum in January 2009) We do not have exact figures, but one example may serve as an illustration that the e-Forum was instrumental not only in giving many youth and adults access to education, but also in helping to set up training institutions. According to Diana Muir, Director of the World Virtual School (http://www.worldvirtual- school.com/): "800 students enrolled through the efforts of the UNEVOC forum […]By talking about WVS on UNEVOC, we've firmly established a virtual school in Jamaica who has about 100 students now."(27 August 2010) Of course, a limited access to computers and online resources in some parts of the world remains as one of the challenges. "Digital literacy" or a culture of using digital communication methods is still underdeveloped in some areas of the world, which partly explains why some countries are still not present on the e-Forum. Another reason is related to language barriers: the standard language used in the e-Forum is English, although some messages are also available in French.

Complementarity with North-South cooperation

One of the strengths of the e-Forum is that it is not being perceived as a North-South or South-South project, but rather a truly global and inclusive initiative which does not work along the lines of "developed" or "underdeveloped", privileged or less privileged. Instead, it becomes apparent that there are many cases where TVET professionals in all parts of the world face similar challenges, and there may well be cases where a "South" perspective can help address a "North" question. The aim of the e-Forum has never been on providing funding for specific projects. Many donor agencies and representatives participate actively in the discussions, mostly staff members working in the field or in positions in respective headquarters. The e-Forum may be helpful for donors in identifying needs in developing countries.

How to share

There is still a lot of potential in developing the e-Forum further, by getting more specialists to join and by improving the online interface by adding social networking features and turning it into an experts database. Replicability: Building online communities is a difficult process, especially with regards to South-South cooperation, and it may not work in all areas. E-mail is and will remain to be an important communication technology, and it is one that is still gaining ground in developing countries. While many online platforms for "solution-sharing" do not work, the basic technology of the e-Forum is easy to replicate and promising if there is a good chance of getting the right people on board.

Duration

Start Date: 01/10/1998. The project is ongoing.

Name of Primary Contact Person/s

Max Ehlers

Title of Primary Contact Person/s

Head of ICT, UNESCO-UNEVOC International Centre

City and country

Bonn, Germany

Contact Email/s

m.ehlers@unesco.org

Telephone/s

+49 228 815-0103

Key players

Max Ehlers, UNESCO-UNEVOC, m.ehlers@unesco.org; Maja Zarini, UNESCO-UNEVOC, m.zarini@unesco.org; Hans Krönner (formerly UNESCO, now free-lance consultant), H.Kronner@intervoc.de