Access to education: an unusual multilingual collaboration

From Martine Vidal, Vice-President

trees.gifI am on my way back from a meeting of Erasmus Mundus project coordinators in Brussels, sitting in the Eurostar.

I took the photographs in Brussels on Friday last. It is an astonishing, grove of trees made of planks, in Boulevard de Waterloo. I wonder whether “wood you are, to wood you will return” could apply. It looks like a gigantic network, with wooden neurones and links – but I am sure leaves and flowers will grow out of them when Spring comes!

I have been wishing to write in the blog for at least two reasons. First it is high time I thank Alan Tait for his collaboration and support concerning my becoming Vice President along with Ulrich Bernath. That must be the trick of presidents: coaxing people into doing their best…

The second reason for writing is that a project, very dear to me has “come out” and is now accessible on the common space of collaborating journals. EDEN has been involved in it via EURODL and will go via the fifth Research Workshop next October in Paris, at Unesco.

It all started in the middle of 2006. As chief editor of a French speaking research journal on distance education, Distances et savoirs, I thought it would be interesting to encourage reciprocal recognition among different linguistic communities of researchers and practitioners in distance education.

So, I contacted a few editors of journals specialised in the same domain, in America, Europe, Asia, Australia, and some with a decidedly European and international scope, and asked them whether they would be interested in sharing a common call for papers, on a common theme. The resulting papers would make up a multicultural, multilingual set of references on a given theme, and widen the horizon of each journal and of their readers.

Very quickly five journals answered and were tempted by the experiment, so that we could embark on “the 6 journals call” – it was very heartening, very exciting, and only the beginning …

I felt it would take some time – when you are just one journal preparing a special theme, it takes about a year to complete the thematic issue. And now we would have to synchronize the results of six journals …!

It meant that the six would be ready by the beginning of 2008. This was the “triggering” point 2008 is the 60th anniversary year of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, whose 26th article proclaims he right to education. Distance education has an important role to play there, and has played a role in many instances. For example, my own institution, Cned (although it was called differently then), was created at a time when the right to education was threatened by war, in 1939. At the time, a number of schools were being used for something else than education, teachers were sent to fight, children were moved to different safer parts of France, and correspondence courses were organised to ensure education went on all the same.
I also thought that researching distance education not just for its technological, pedagogical or other intrinsic values, but as a specific tool ready to be set into action in specific circumstances might be a stimulating way of looking at it, and beyond – I will sound pedantic – of transcending it …

It was great when all other five journals agreed on the theme, enthusiastically. We were already deep into intercultural issues for finalising the call for papers, when one day in September 2006, John Bourne (JALN) wrote to me (from a conference on distance education he was attending):

“Tell you what – I’m going downstairs to the conference and I’ll ask my colleagues who have gathered for breakfast about their views about right to education, right now…”

And a few minutes later :

“I talked to a lot of folks – no one at this conference had heard of the right to education. Interesting that this term isn’t in common use among this group”.

I felt it made the collaboration among us six even more relevant. And we rephrased the call, with “distance education and right or access to education” which made more sense to everybody.

We had to organise an agreement between the journals so that each of us can publish in their own journals some translations of the articles from the other five (that was not an easy thing to do, technically and legally, and the documents had to go round the world in as many copies as signing journals). Think too that some journals are free, for others, usually those with printed version like Distances et savoirs, you have to subscribe to get it – so it was a very unusual occasion, and a real achievement to give full access to every paper !

Then the website was created, papers from all six published. A few more texts are still coming in but there are more than 40 now, from all over the world. I won’t say more, just go and read them, and send comments !

And also: come to the EDEN 5th research workshop in Paris, Unesco, 20-22 October 2008 ! when we will enlarge on the theme. You might meet some of the authors, you might feel tempted to submit experience and present papers on close topics. The field of ICT and the “right or access to education” is wide open to you. Welcome to the workshop website where the call has recently been published!

gabor_flowers_napoly.gifWhen the time comes, we’ll tell you about the “making of” that Research Workshop too, but don’t forget that we have another appointment before: EDEN Annual Conference in Lisbon, next June, where we will be awaiting you in our usual fashion!

EDEN’s secretariat is getting ready with flowers …

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