Interview with Mor Seck, Director of the Distance Learning Center in Senegal

The Global Development Learning Network (GDLN) is a global partnership of learning centers that offers the use of advanced information and communication technologies to connect people working in development around the world. By applying tools and services developed in the field of distance learning, GDLN Affiliates enable organizations, teams and individuals around the world to communicate, share knowledge and learn from each others’ experiences in a timely and cost-effective manner.

At eLA 2006 the Global Distance Learning Network (GDLN) is organising a panel discussion featuring interviews and a discussion about GDLN as a global network with a special focus on Africa GDLN and AADLC. The discussion will cover objectives, methods and opportunities to use GDLN in Africa to support eLearning as well as location and setting, impact, statistics and perspectives in Africa, partnerships and a great deal more …

eLA: Mr Seck, would you give us a general view of the Global Development Learning Network? What are its main functions and how is GDLN structured?

Mor Seck: The Global Development Learning Network (GDLN) was set up just five years ago as a World Bank initiative. It is a worldwide network with partners and affiliates on all continents. Therefore, it is divided into regions: Africa, Europe and Central Asia, Latin America and the Caribbean and Middle East North Africa, each with a co-ordination task set by the GDLN Secretariat located in the World Bank headquarter in Washington.

GDLN is a unique partnership of public, private, academic and non-governmental organizations that makes up an interactive, multichannel, multi-node distance learning network with a development mandate. It is configured to meet individual, institutional, local, regional and country capacity building needs. GDLN partner organizations work together to take advantage of modern technology to help countries build local capacity and share learning and knowledge.

eLA: How would you evaluate GDLN’s potential for capacity building in the context of international development and from an African perspective?

MS: As I’ve said, it is important to stress the fact that GDLN has a development mandate. In the context of international development, it is important to mention that GDLN is composed of 76 distance learning centers, who work with content providers, donors, as well as learners, including governments, public administration, NGOs, academia and civil society.

All these components are spread out around the world. Internationally speaking, GDLN expansion, in terms of capacity building, helps to bridge the knowledge gap between developed and developing countries. It enables people to learn anywhere at anytime and facilitates learning and knowledge sharing in real time to regional and global audiences.

From an African perspective, GDLN has proved to be an effective tool to face the development challenge. Indeed, even if there are at the moment only nine operational Distance Learning Centers in Africa, they have made quite an important contribution to building capacity on the Continent.

eLA: What is the function of the DLCs?

MS: The Distance Learning Centers (DLCs) link policy makers and change agents in cities across the globe via state-of-the-art technology as participants in global learning activities. In this way, GDLN provides them with access to partners and colleagues who face similar challenges in other parts of the world. It harnesses expertise in a wide variety of disciplines. It enables people to learn in their home environments without costly travel or work disruptions.

For example, when I consider the case of Global Dialogues in which Africa DLCs are participating, they provide our countries with a unique opportunity for decision-makers and agents of change to discuss pressing issues that call for a common international agenda and that have repercussions for which local policy responses must be formulated. Global Dialogues give them exposure to first-hand knowledge of leading-edge research, as well as to each other’s experiences in resolving policy or programme issues related to poverty eradication issues, HIV/AIDS programmes, good governance policies and so on.

I sincerely think that in addition to money, Africa has a great need for well-trained and well-informed people who are able to make the right decisions at the right time. Therefore, building capacity must be a priority in Africa and the GDLN in Africa, through the Association of African Distance Learning Centres (AADLC), has the ambition to be a leader in this domain and has been having a great deal of impact in Africa.

eLA: Mr Seck, you are managing the GDLN affiliate in Senegal. Could you give us some concrete examples of activities or projects in your domain?

MS: Indeed, I have been the Director of the DLC in Senegal since 2000. The Centre, located in the capital city Dakar, is one of the five Francophone DLCs in Africa. Our programmes run in both in French and English. They are mainly done in partnership with the World Bank Institute in Washington and with both local training institutions and institutions from France, as Senegal is a French-speaking country. As mentioned, we are also involved in programmes with partners from other parts of the world that are held in English. As a Global network, we are trying to overcome language as a communication barrier.

Most of our programmes are in distance learning format, with courses and seminars, Global dialogues and Web-based courses. We also have some face-to-face programmes, which apply the blended learning approach generally used by the GDLN.

Our programmes cover a full range of development issues, such as AIDS education and health, good governance, environmental policy, journalism, urban development, administration and decentralisation policy, management, social policy, economic growth and poverty reduction and private sector development.

Some concrete courses are, for example Challenges of Decentralisation, Public and Private Partnership for Infrastructure, Public Debt Management and Strategic Management of Development Projects. In addition to this development focus, we have started running degree programmes in Human Resources Management and Financial Engineering in collaboration with both French universities and local higher-education institutions.

eLA: Could you describe the specific impact and importance of GDLN with regard to the development of Senegal?

MS: With regard to the development of Senegal, the Senegal DLC has a valuable impact indeed. In terms of statistical impact, about 2500 people from all sectors of activities attend our training programmes and are enrolled in courses, seminars, global dialogues, web-based courses. Participants range from Ministers, MPs, Managing Directors of important private and public enterprises, Magistrates, Police, army, customs staff, and civil society leaders to simple administrative officers.

From the feed back we have received from the annual evaluations, these participants have confirmed the effectiveness of what they have learned and the profit they have gained from their experience sharing with colleagues and with participants from other sites. In many cases they continue their interaction through emails via the discussion forums used. They have also stressed their effective use of the knowledge acquired in the programmes in their day-to-day jobs. This reinforces the contributions our programmes make toward propelling the changes necessary to promote development in the country.

Also, to share some good memories, we have received feedback from former participants who obtained new positions after taking a course in the Senegal DLC and some civil servants who got their first email address after a participating in one of our training programmes. Indeed, the first action participants take when they attend a programme at the Senegal DLC is to fill in list with some personal information. We realized that most of these senior civil servants didn’t even have email addresses and therefore were unable to take full advantage of the forums. We make sure they get email access and they share with us their wonderful experiences gained from being in touch with the rest of the world and from having access to real time information in their area of work, which enables them to regularly update their personal knowledge.

eLA: Mr Seck, Thank you very much indeed.

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