UN's GVU Opens With Little Fanfare
The United Nations University announced the opening of the Global Virtual University this week. The new online university will specialize in programs related to sustainable development with a "particular objective to meet the educational needs of the developing world." A UN press release called the GVU a "pioneering, online global university", and UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan was confident that it would help bridge the digital divide:
The Global Virtual University under the auspices of the United Nations University and the United Nations Environment Programme is a fine example of building digital bridges in an area of crucial importance to human security and prosperity: environmentally sustainable development. As such it can make an important contribution to efforts to achieve the objectives set out at last year’s World Summit on Sustainable Development in Johannesburg. It also offers the prospect of constructive international cooperation, not only between rich and poor countries but also within the developing world.
Dr. Hans J. A. van Ginkel, Rector of the United Nations University and deliverer of the Secretary-General's speech at the opening ceremony had this to say:
The GVU is a major pilot project that shows how we can reach out across the world in practice, and how we can present the best knowledge in an optimal combination of the high quality audio-visual learning materials with face-to-face support. Using Internet broadcasting and stimulating at the same time intense human interaction, the GVU aims to be the learning institution for a sustainable future with a worldwide reach.
Announcements like this should have ripped through the media and the blogosphere. Titles like "New Online University to Bridge of Digital Divide" and "Pioneering Online Global University to Meet Educational Needs of Developing World" came to my mind, but I failed to find them. A search on Daypop for blogs and news sites covering GVU came up with just 12 hits, most of them duplicates. What it boiled down to was 3 sites that even commented on it and the rest giving it a cursory mention like the announcement of a new blog or a new Wal-Mart opening. No, I'm sure the Wal-Mart would have generated more publicity.
What gives? This is transnational ed of critical life-saving importance to people who are trying to participate in the so-called information society. Why the apathy? On Connectivity: Spike Hall's RU Weblog, the message is that this initiative is much too late.
"University-trained harvest [natural resources --metals, minerals, lumber, shrimp, etc.] managers bringing planning and management concepts to control the removal of [whoops, oh yeah!] the last small fractions of what's left."
In other words, natural resources have already been annihilated, so why are we educating people on how to manage and effectively use them?
Even AllAfrica.com, which posted a nice summary had no commentary on this event. The rest of the articles came from Norwegian sites, which I haven't found out how to read yet. (Side note: Ever tried to translate Norwegian to English on the web? Don't.) The number of articles from Norway reflects the roots of the university. Agder University College in Norway is one of the "core partners" and the Norway government pitched in US $2 million to help create the GVU.
Is the UN too late to provide online education on sustainable development? I don't think so. There will always be a need to better manage the earth's resources, especially in areas of the world where water and other crucial materials are tight.
Perhaps the apathy then comes from the fact that those who do the most talking online feel they have the least to gain from this online university.