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Long-distance knowledge sharing network expands in Indonesia

Philip E. Karp's picture

GDLN Indonesia covers more than 220 public and private universities across the archipelago, opening up opportunities to share knowledge both within Indonesia and with other countries.
Earlier this month in Jakarta I participated in the inauguration of the expanded Global Development Learning Network (GDLN) IndonesiaGDLN, for those who may not be familiar with the network, is a World Bank initiated partnership dedicated to the use of information and communications technology to facilitate learning and knowledge sharing for people working in the development field.  Its programs include formal courses as well as multi-country dialogues and virtual conferences, delivered via a blend of videoconference, web, and other modes of distance learning. 

Indonesia’s participation in GDLN began several years ago with distance learning centers at the University of Indonesia and three other universities around the country having been connected to the global network, via satellite, under a World Bank loan.  However, a few months ago, the Government of Indonesia decided to bridge the four existing centers, through the University of Indonesia DLC, with the broadband fiber optic infrastructure of the Indonesia Higher Education Network (INHERENT). 

Through this link-up, GDLN Indonesia now covers more than 220 public and private universities across the archipelago.  This expanded reach opens up huge opportunities to share knowledge both within Indonesia and with other countries.  In his speech at the launch, the Minister of Education noted “I am confident that over time GDLN Indonesia will grow stronger and wider, and will play a significant role in supporting the development of not only higher education, but also other sectors by connecting any corner of Indonesia to the world and bring the world to any corner of Indonesia.”

This re-shaping of GDLN in Indonesia is typical of what is beginning to happen across the global network.  When GDLN was originally launched by the World Bank in 2000 it was hailed as an important initiative for bridging the digital divide, affording an opportunity for real-time sharing of knowledge across the globe through live videoconferencing.  The problem, however, was that the infrastructure needed to fulfill this promise didn’t really exist.  The videoconferencing facilities that were available were located mainly in capital cities, and connectivity, which was provided by satellite or ISDN, was prohibitively expensive. 

With the advent of videoconferencing over the internet, things began to change.  In part due to encouragement through the Internet2 consortium, networks of higher education and research around the world began to affiliate with or provide connectivity for GDLN centers.  One of the earliest cases was China, where the World Bank and the State Council Leading Office for Western Region Development teamed up with the Internet2 affiliate China Education and Research Network (CERNET) to establish a dozen distance learning centers in the less developed regions of China.  Recently, China Development Bank agreed to link in its network of videoconferencing centers, as well, providing coverage across the country. 

Similar things are happening elsewhere in East Asia and the Pacific (and in other Regions as well).  National development learning networks are planned in Vietnam and Mongolia and across the Pacific Islands.  While much of the expansion is to universities, which plan to use the network to expand delivery of higher education, the widened coverage also provides a great opportunity for policymakers and development practitioners to share knowledge or otherwise carry out exchange.  Indeed, during the GDLN Indonesia launch, ASEAN Secretary Dr. Surin Pitsuwan, who was connected from Manila, raised the idea of setting up an “ASEAN-GDLN”, to be used for policy dialogue and other high-level consultations.  But the opportunities aren’t limited to high-level dialogue; the network can also facilitate experience sharing of a very practical nature.  Last month, for example, transport planners in four cities in China (Wuhan, Chongqing, Beijing, and Shanghai) were connected by videoconference, together with counterparts at the GDLN Center in Manila, with officials from London’s public transport authority to learn about how London has succeeded in improving air quality and reducing vehicular traffic delays through an innovative scheme of congestion charges. 

And as low-cost connectivity options become increasingly available (via Skype, for example), the opportunities for this type of real-time exchange will become even more available.  As a result, the challenge going forward will be less about how to get development practitioners and stakeholders around the world connected, and more about how to promote effective sharing of knowledge and experience to make a real difference in improving people’s lives. 

Let’s hear from you.  How are your organizations using ICTs to promote learning and knowledge sharing?  What opportunities do you see for using Web 2.0 tools and applications in the development context?