21– 27 March 2001

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Malta's role in on-line distance learning

By Nadine Brincat

Prime Minister Eddie Fenech Adami yesterday inaugurated the first interregional node of the International Telecommunication Union, Global Telecommunication University and Training Institute GTU/GTTI.

The project, accomplished through the Maltacom College International Limited, in Dingli, aims to deliver on-line distance learning. It is organised between ITU GTU/GTTI and Maltacom College International Limited with the objective of delivering e-learning education programmes to developing countries.

The partnership agreement was signed yesterday morning by Yoshio Utsumi, ITU Secretary General and Maurice Zarb Adami, Maltacom Chairman. The College is a fully-owned subsidiary of the Maltacom Group.

Through this agreement, the Maltacom College International Limited will be recognised as an official partner of the ITU/GTU/GTI and as a pioneering entity in the consolidation of this virtual organisation. The GTU/GTI will recognise courses, documents, services and infrastructure, which are related to the activities under the framework of the partnership, while the provision of the infrastructure, both hardware and software, is a joint responsibility. The ITU will, in the initial phase of the project, provide expert assistance and training to Maltacom staff for course development and delivery.

The first eight weeks of courses will be based on on-line distance learning techniques, whereas the last week will be organised in the form of a seminar held in Malta for the successful participants of the first part of the course.

In his address, the prime minister mentioned that Malta and the ITU have had a mutually beneficial relationship over the past 35 years, and that his government would support the ITU in its mission to seek appropriate ways to develop the international telecommunications sector.

The PM commended the venture for aiming to create "an environment in which knowledge and expertise in telecommunications can be accessed and exchanged in a timelier manner".

He added that the project will offer the opportunity of a high quality education in telecommunications technology to anyone, anywhere and, in particular, to developing countries.

"It demonstrates how the global information infrastructure can be used for educational and professional training in developing countries. It will provide a teaching medium to those interested in managing their own telecommunications affairs, with as little external assistance as possible, utilising a very cost-effective form of education," he stressed.

During his address, Mr Zarb Adami explained that the node will offer on-line distance learning courses for telecommunications managers, engineers and technicians based on the use of modern technologies for course development and delivery.

"This teaching methodology represents the most cost-effective way of delivering education particularly to developing countries, where education is critical," he said.

Mr Utsumi emphasised the political, social and cultural developments, particularly the global society and an information society brought about by technology. He mentioned that today, one half of the earth's population have still not made a single phone call.

He also dwelt on the issue of the digital divide, which the UN has tried to narrow in the past 15 years.

"The effects of the digital divide are worse than financial, social, economic and democratic divides, because it has no boundaries and is spreading fast," he said.

Mr Utsumi noted the shortage of skilled professionals in the field of telecommunications, adding that distance learning was very helpful in this aspect. He concluded his speech with his vision of Malta as a potential centre in the crusade to close the digital gap.

Economic Services Minister Josef Bonnici highlighted Malta's strengthening bond with the UN through the signing of the agreement. He said he was impressed with the rapidity of the negotiations to secure this first distance-learning project in the framework of the ITU's Global Telecommunication University and Training Institute.

Prof. Bonnici spoke of technology as a major agent of change.

"The rise of competition, private sector participation, the multiplication of independent regulatory agencies are not the only changes that are transforming the industry," he said.

He expressed his confidence that the project would establish itself as a meaningful support to the ITU's Centre of Excellence vision of developing telecommunications as a means to connect people and societies.

Present at the inauguration were also Telecommunications Minister Censu Galea and Professor Roger Ellul Micallef, newly re-appointed University Rector.

The Business Times, Network House, Vjal ir-Rihan San Gwann SGN 07
Tel: (356) 382741-3, 382745-6 | Fax: (356) 385075 | e-mail: editorial@networkpublications.com.mt