Virtual science and technology campus for mediterranean basinParis - An ambitious distance-learning project involving 15 countries, most of them in the Mediterranean Basin, will become operational following a kick-off meeting in UNESCO on March 17. The project, named Avicenna Virtual Campus (after the Latin name for the medieval Persian philosopher-scientist, Ibn Sina), has attracted €3.7 million in funding from the European Commission’s EUMEDIS (Euro-Mediterranean Information Society) programme and €920,000 from partners including UNESCO, which is the project’s principal co-ordinator.
“The aim of Avicenna,” says Walter Erdelen, UNESCO’s Assistant Director-General for Natural Sciences “is to help bridge the gap in science and technology education in the region using ICT, The virtual campus will reinforce existing higher educational establishments in the region, not replace them.” At the moment, universities in North Africa, for example, often have to limit the number of students they can take, because they lack the infrastructure and teaching staff. “Avicenna,” explains Mustafa El Tayeb, Director of UNESCO’s Science Analysis and Policies Division, “provides specially-designed distance learning course material to each of the 15 ‘knowledge centres’ in the network. The materials will be produced in one or more of six languages (English, French, Arabic, Italian, Spanish and Turkish), and will be backed up by local, trained tutors. They can reach students who would otherwise be refused access to higher education in their own country because of lack of staff and facilities.”
Unlike other existing distance learning projects in Africa and the Mediterranean, which have all course material on a central, remote server – sometimes as far away as the USA - Avicenna distributes courses to ‘knowledge centres’ – essentially universities – in the 15 participating countries in the network (Algeria (UFC), Cyprus (UC), Egypt (CFI), France (UM-CNED-CNAM), Great Britain (OU), Italy (NETTUNO), Jordan (PUA), Lebanon (LU), Malta (MCST), Morocco (ENSIAS), Palestinian Territories (AQ-OU), Spain (UNED), Syria (UD), Tunisia (ISEFC), Turkey (METU). Each of these centres is free to set up its own national network to distribute courses to other higher education centres and to train tutors to support students using the course material.
“There are not many quality courses on-line for students,” says Mohamed Miloudi, project officer at UNESCO’s Division for Science Analysis and Policies, “which pay equal attention to the technical, media and the pedagogical components”. The courses, which are prepared by teachers from the partner universities and validated by a scientific council for each discipline, are ‘stand-alone’ courses that students follow in a centre of higher education. In many other distance learning institutions, coursework is mostly distributed in the form of books, television programmes, videos and residential courses, backed up by tutors.
Another feature of the Avicenna project is that 5% of all coursework will be adapted for blind students, using special computer terminals equipped with tactile Braille screens and audio feedback. UNESCO has already implemented ‘e-learning’ technology for the blind in the region and, in February, opened a special e-learning centre for the blind in India.
“Avicenna,” adds Mr Miloudi, “is a model for the Mediterranean Basin. But it could also be applied in other regions, like the Gulf States, Latin America, East Africa, the Balkans, etc.”
The launch will be held at UNESCO (Paris) in Room XIII at 9 a.m.
Journalists wishing to attend must contact UNESCO’s Press Service for accreditation
tel: +33(0)1 45 68 17 48.
See also: http://avicenna.unesco.org