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International cooperation in learning environment technology: Asian perspective

Mind C. Sutaria

Today's world is like a kaleidoscope. It keeps changing, and it changes so fast that if we were to take a photograph of it, the picture would change just as we click our cameras.

Such volatile nature of the world today stems from the impact of potent forces of change. Among such forces are rapid developments in science and technology, new political and economic challenges, environmental problems and efforts to solve them, the growing trend towards globalisation, knowledge and population explosion, and the advent of the information age.

In 1903 former American President Theodore Roosevelt wrote, "The Atlantic Era is now at the height of its development and must soon exhaust the resources at its command. The Pacific Era destined to be the greatest of all is just at its dawn." Today the Asia Pacific Region is popularly referred to as the region of economic dynamism and potential development. Scenarios for the third millennium picture it as the next growth area - the emerging ''boom'' region.

Asia has half of the world's population, and by the year 2000, it will have two thirds of it. The dynamism so discernible in this region stems from several sources, particularly huge gains in material products brought about by the application of science and technology to its underdeveloped population and resource base. In the East Asian newly industrialised countries (NIC) and ASIAN countries, economic development has been fostered by unprecedented inflows of capital and technology. Several countries, in the region, however, have yet to achieve political and economic stability which are among the sine qua non of development.

The Asia Pacific economic thrust is increasingly being reinforced with a commitment to education. In this region where economic growth is rapid, the need for well educated people can never be over emphasised. The enormous challenges in education, especially in the populous countries, demand that new approaches for educating millions of students be evolved. As more countries achieve NIC status, there will be an increasing demand for education and training that empower all types of learners to cope with rapid change and other challenges in the information age. As the countries become more financially stable, they will aspire to create more effective learning environments for their children, youth and adults - learning environments in which technology is adopted not as an add on to the curriculum but as a vital tool for achieving specific learning objectives and for helping individuals meet their unique learning needs more effectively.

As the demand for relevant education and effective learning environments heightens, new needs will emerge. There will be a need to retain teachers, school administrators, supervisors and other school personnel on new technologies, redesign the curricula to integrate appropriate and affordable technologies, restructure classrooms and school buildings to effectively accommodate technological innovation and change, renew educational assessment systems, acquire new software and hardware that can enhance learning and orient parents on technologies that will become part of their children's learning environment.

Not all the countries in the Asia Pacific Region will be able to immediately afford to embark on the necessary actions intended to improve learning environments for all types of clientele. Except in the NICs which can well afford to provide huge outlays for education, there may be sufficient funds to support all these activities. Countries whose economics are still in the doldrums will be hard put to provide for them. There may be a dearth of sufficiently trained experts in educational technology to conduct the needed retraining, to redesign the curricula, to integrate new technologies, and to restructure classrooms and school buildings to accommodate technological innovations initiated. Funds may be inadequate for the purchase of necessary software and hardware and for training school personnel on their effective use.

Need for international cooperation

If an important thrust in all the countries in the Asia Pacific Region in the third millennium is to develop learning environments that will produce quality educational outputs, then international cooperation will continue to be a potent key for accelerating the achievement of this end. There will be a need to build bridges of understanding and concern between developed and developing countries and even between developing countries in order to stimulate robust international cooperative linkages and collaboration which will foster the improvement of learning environment technology.

Experience and research suggest that it is time to make a paradigm shift in the modes of international cooperation that will be forged in the future. UNDP (1994) proposes that the kind of partnership for development that may be developed among countries be "based not on charity but on mutual interest, not on confrontation but on cooperation, not on protectionism but on an equitable sharing of market opportunities, not on stubborn nationalism but in far sighted internationalism"[1]. This persuasion is reflected in a statement of the president of UNIVERSALIA which evaluated the performance of SEAMEO[2] regional centres when he responded to a group of beneficiaries of Canadian assistance who asked if CIDA would provide funds for a possible third SEAMEO CIDA five year program. He said, "the donor is dead; we only have partners." He perhaps meant that while there would still be fund assistance to be made available, mutual interests and benefits between donors and beneficiaries shall be an important consideration in developing programs and projects for international cooperation under CIDA[3], one of the heaviest supporters of SEAMEO. Institutional linkages and cooperative and collaborative endeavours exemplify modes of international cooperation that serve mutual concerns and interests. In such modes of cooperation, traditional donors and beneficiaries become partners in development. The flow of benefits would be two way, in contrast to the traditional mode which is one way.

One popular mode of international cooperation which can stand reform is technical assistance. Technical assistance programs are originally aimed to reduce the technical capability gap between developed countries by accelerating the transfer of knowledge, skills and experience and consequently bolstering nation capability building. It has been reported that while in a few cases it has achieved this, in many others it has resulted in retarding rather than strengthening national capability.

Common factors in successful technical assistance programs have been identified by UNDP (1994). These include (1) harnessing well defined and established technologies that have neither suffered from changes nor gone out of fashion, (2) providing adequate time for testing alternative approaches - for research, for trial and error and for learning by doing (3) promoting the participation of enough national counterparts and (4) creating a favourable environment in the receiving country[4].

One strategy that has been proposed for improving technical assistance programs is to give the technical assistance funds directly to the project implementor to make possible the employment of local experts where available and international experts where not. The merits of this scheme would be that it would entail less cost and that the experts would be more attuned to the country's needs.

Technical assistance could also be improved through regional cooperation which can fling doors open for new funding sources and encourage self financing. It is apropos at this juncture to cite the regional cooperation that has been engendered by the Southeast Asian Ministers of Education Organisation (SEAMEO) and its 12 regional centres for almost three decades. One of such centres is SEAMEO INNOTECH, the Regional Centre for Educational Innovation and Technology in the Philippines which has been actively involved in programs relevant to the thrust of LETA 1994. It has some experience worth sharing which exemplifies varied modes of international cooperation for contributing to the creation of effective learning environments utilising innovation and technology in Southeast Asia, its main area of service.


Established in 1969, SEAMEO INNOTECH has been involved in programs which largely contribute to improving technology in the learning environment. Its mission as a regional Centre for Educational Innovation and Technology is to support SEAMEO's purpose of fostering cooperation among Southeast Asian nations through education for human resource development. The Centre carries out this mission by assisting member countries to identify common or unique educational problems and anticipated needs, and help solve them through research and development, training approach. It fosters the application of innovation and appropriate and affordable technology in the solutions to these problems.

SEAMEO is a regional organisation composed of nine member countries, namely, Brunei Darussalam, Cambodia, Indonesia, Lao PDR, Malaysia, Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and Viet Nam. It has six associate member countries which include Australia, Canada, France, Germany, Netherlands and New Zealand. Its executive arm is its Secretariat (SEAMES) based in Bangkok, Thailand and its policy making body is composed of the ministers of education of the member countries (SEAMEO)[5]. The member countries annually contribute funds for the centres' and SEAMES' operations and programs in accordance with a contribution index based on their ability to pay as gauged from their economic status. The associate countries and other donor countries and international organisations have been contributing significant amounts to support the programs, projects and activities of the secretariat and the centres. The heaviest contributors to SEAMEO are Australia, Canada Japan, The Netherlands and the USA.

Modes of international cooperation

Training is a major program of SEAMEO INNOTECH. It has trained close to 4000 key educators during its twenty-five year existence. As a centre for educational innovation and technology, most of its courses have relevance to learning environment technology. In keeping with the theme of its Fourth Five Year Development Plan - "Towards Greater Learning Effectiveness for All" - its present training courses promote new information technologies and telecommunications in the learning environment and delve into the management of learning environments in which technology is a significant factor. One course is mounted recently - Creating Effective Learning Environments - in which six member countries participated, covered various concerns in learning environment technology.

International cooperation - particularly through technical assistance and scholarship grants, made the new course possible. A Canadian expert funded by the Canadian International Development Authority (CIDA) facilitated the course in collaboration with centre staff and conducted informal academic sharing sessions with them as instructional capability building measures. The effective use of appropriate technology in creating learning environments was not only espoused but demonstrated in the conduct of the course as well. Today the course is conducted sans foreign technical assistance with scholarship grants from regular and associate member countries. Scholarship grants from donor countries and agencies are, however, decreasing so the Centre is exploring new modes of international cooperation for supporting its training programs.

One such mode of international cooperation was recently tried out only last month. A two week course organised for 26 Thai key educators was totally funded by the Thai government and cooperatively planned by the Thai Ministry of Education and SEAMEO INNOTECH. The first week of the training was conducted in Thailand and the second week in SEAMEO INNOTECH. The evaluative feedback from the participants was quite encouraging, so that now we promote the modality as one of the alternatives for conducting training to meet specific country training needs. One of its merits is that it fosters healthy relationships between the centre and the countries, particularly the ministries of education served and enhances the relevance of the training course.

One technology that SEAMEO INNOTECH employs today that international cooperation made possible is computer conferencing which has proven to be a viable alternative especially when it is not financially possible to bring in foreign experts. The centre's two and three month courses now usually culminate in a one hour computer conference with experts in the USA and Canada. The technical assistance component of its Five Year CIDA Project in the Development of Institutional Capacity made it possible for the Centre to leap frog into such leading edge technology. To insure these sustainability of the technology, three staff members worked closely with a Canadian expert in setting up its local and wide area networks and had a brief follow up training with him in Canada. Now, consultation with him is done via Email whenever some problems arise in the Centre's network system. This close relationship developed between the expert and the staff serves as insurance for the sustainability of the Centre's capability for computer conferencing. The brief consultancy program of the expert with SEAMEO INNOTECH has in turn provided him opportunities for sharing his expertise and networking with other institutions in the country. A two way flow of benefits between the donor country and beneficiaries has, thus, become possible. This is the desideratum in international cooperation.

Australia, one of the earliest associate members of SEAMEO, has been a staunch supporter of SEAMEO INNOTECH's programs for development, largely in the area of learning environment technology. Under its international cooperation program managed by the Australian International Development Assistance Bureau (AIDAB), SEAMEO INNOTECH has been able to access Australian technical expertise and staff training. From 1974 to the present, it has contributed US$2,119,469 for the Centre's staff training in Australia, training scholarships for SEAMEO member countries and technical assistance in various areas that relate to learning environment technology. The Centre's computerised library and its capability in computer and video technology development of instructional modules, and handling its various courses can be attributed in a large measure to the programs of assistance provided by AIDAB. Several senior professional and technical staff of the Centre have had training in various institutions in Australia and have continued to enhance their training, research, information management and technological capabilities through their interaction with the various experts AIDAB fielded to the Centre.

From 1982 to 1992, Australian assistance to the Centre through triennium grants provided much needed human and capital resources for institutional capability building to prepare it to meet the various needs of its clientele. The termination of such triennium grants propelled the Centre to seek new modes of cooperation in order to continue its salutary relationships with the Australian experts that had served it for sometime. Thus, began the effort to develop institutional linkages with institutions to which these experts belong.

Through the efforts of one such expert, who in the past years regularly came to SEAMEO INNOTECH to conduct a course cooperatively with the training staff, an institutional linkage was developed with the Torrens Valley Institute and is intended to be a mutually strengthening relationship. A memorandum of understanding was signed by the heads of both institutions and soon after, the first cooperative activity was planned. In a few months and expert will facilitate a course of individualised modularised instruction for Southeast Asian key educators some of whom will be on training scholarships funded by donor countries and agencies and most of whom will be fee paying participants. Torrens Valley Institute will provide the expert while the Centre will provide his accommodation and out of pocket expenses and recruit fee paying participants. This is a departure from the usual mode of international cooperation in which the expert and the training scholarships are funded by one or more donor countries or agencies.

There are other permutations of international cooperation that emanate from lasting relationships between institutions and people which merit mention. One such mode is exemplified in a training course that will be mounted in the Centre in October. The former dean of the University of South Carolina with which SEAMEO INNOTECH is linked under a memorandum of agreement, has offered to handle this special course. He has offered his service free and will pay for his air fare. SEAMEO INNOTECH will provide his accommodation and recruit fee paying participants since no scholarship grants are available for it. Such altruistic individuals are perhaps rare, but they will emerge especially where they see how well their services can further enhance the capability of an institution whose staff is cordial and hospitable to foreign technical expertise.

The United States was instrumental in giving the Centre much needed technical and material support through its International Cooperation Administration during its early years, specifically from 1973 to 1984. It plowed in US$3,989,725 in terms of training grants, technical assistance, equipment and research grants during the Centre's first decade of existence. Its experts helped the staff define the direction of its programs and provided assistance in developing its first five year plan and in designing its programs. The scheme of US assistance to the Centre was to infuse massive aid during the first decade of its existence, help develop its competence and pull out as soon as it could fairly well operate to fulfil its mission. Indeed, such aid helped immensely in institutional building which insured the sustainability of the changes and developments the experts initiated with the staff.

Almost nine years after American aid was cut off, a new mode of international cooperation with USAID was evolved. A collaborative project was initiated with LEARN TECH under the Education Development Centre with funding support from USAID. The project - VIDEO TECH - is intended to develop a new approach to using video as a teacher training strategy. It involves the development of a training package composed of a trainer's manual and two videos, one on questioning techniques and the other on responding techniques. Two experts, one from the Educational Development Centre and the other from the Ohio State University, came to the Centre to collaborate in planning for the production of the video tapes and the manual. The Centre executed the plan and the experts reviewed the products. The training package has been field tested and evaluated and is now ready for marketing. Meanwhile, it is being adapted for Thai use by the Chulalongkorn University of Thailand. The resources given by USAID for the project have not only produced, under a collaborative arrangement, a useful teacher training package, but have also provided opportunities for networking with other countries. Part of the Centre's plan is to get other countries to prepare adaptations of the training package.

Japan has provided the most extensive assistance to SEAMEO INNOTECH. From 1980 to the present, it has invested US$4,632,624 in terms of infrastructure, development and technical assistance. It has not only provided funds for constructing a permanent edifice for the Centre but also provided technological hardware and technical expertise which have considerably increased its capability to meet member country training needs in the realm of educational technology. Japanese technical assistance has been provided the Centre annually through the Japanese International Cooperation Agency (JICA). Experts come annually for a period of one month and bring to the Centre some light equipment from JICA, upgrade the staff's competence in technology as well as handle training courses. As in other international cooperation agreements, the objective of the technical and equipment assistance in institutional capability building.

Development assistance from the Netherlands has provided an opportunity for SEAMEO INNOTECH to forge a strong linkage with a research organisation in the Hague, the Centre collaborated in producing and printing a report on one of its projects funded by the Netherlands. CESO and the Centre have recently collaborated in the development of a project proposal and are seeking funds for it. Theirs is a dynamic relationship that has produced mutual benefits for both institutions.

One traditional mode of international cooperation from which SEAMEO INNOTECH has derived much benefit is provision of research grants by donor countries and agencies. In the eighties, the research grants it secured allowed it to involve three of more member countries in a research and development project. This provided a golden opportunity for networking and developing healthy working relationships with the ministries of education of the member countries. Today the grant packages are smaller and have constrained the Centre to make a paradigm shift in its scheme of involving several member countries in research projects. The research and development projects of the Centre received much of their support from IDRC, AIDAB, CIDA, USAID, the Netherlands, UNDP, UNICEF and UNESCO. The common concern of these funding agencies and donor countries for greater utilisation of research outputs has propelled the Centre to improve its dissemination strategies.

The new paradigm for international cooperation must embrace all international flows, not just aid, and must provide rich opportunities for networking and developing linkages and partnership.

One mode of international cooperation that the Centre has been nurturing to perfection is holding international conference on themes of current interest and significance. Its conference held last February 1994 provided a forum for sharing views and experiences on the theme "Learning Technologies for All: Today and Tomorrow." Largely dependent on conference fees for support, it brought together notable personages and seasoned educators from 38 countries and 15 international organisations from all over the world. It provided wealth of opportunities for the Centre to develop and strengthen institutional linkages and to enhance its visibility and its institutional capability. Some spin offs of the conference are the Centre's mounting a course on multimedia software production in response to the requests of some participants, several speaking and consultancy invitations from abroad that its director and senior staff received and broadening of its networks to include both foreign and local institutions whose objectives are congruent with the Centre's.

Value of capability building

International cooperation programs in the main provide investments in human development. If such investment and the changes of innovations introduced are to be sustainable, as much attention must be paid to building institutional capability as well as to the transfer of resources. In fact the effectiveness of the transfer of resources hinges on the development of institutional capability. An institution that has been successful in building its capability can increasingly shift responsibility for the preparation, appraisal and supervision of specific investment to the recipients thus creating favourable conditions for deepening commitment and for broadening "ownership" of the externally assisted process of change or innovation.

To be effective, capability building must consider how the target organisation operates and how information flows within it. It must also take into account its staffing policies and career incentives that influence the quality of staff performance, the decision making structure and process and the motivational culture of the organisation.

Concluding note

The Asia Pacific Region today is in a state of accelerating change. Its countries are unevenly coping with such change, with the NICs taking larger strides than countries which have yet to attain political and economic stability. The region has still a lot of catching up to do with the developed countries in the realm of learning environment technology. This provides the raison d'etre for continuing international cooperation in this area.

Future international cooperation programs on learning environment technology would do well to address the learning needs of people with disabilities and impairments, to emphasise the benefits that flow from inter-and intra-country sharing of information, ideas and experience and to make those involved in international cooperation projects perceive the value of ongoing research and communication in sustaining change and innovation.

The vision of effective learning environments through harnessing appropriate technology in the twenty-first century will swiftly evaporate if these concerns are ignored. It will disappear even more speedily if we forget that international cooperation programs must foster institutional and national capability building.


  1. Chan, Gerald. Asia Pacific Cooperation from an International Organisation Prospective. Chinese University of Hong Kong, 34pp.

  2. Herold, Peter, Qutub U Khan and Hans Reiff (1983). International Cooperation in Education in Countries of Asia and the Pacific: Objectives. Statistical Trends and Prospects. UNESCO, Paris. 51 pp.

  3. Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (1992). Development Cooperation. Paris pp. 54-73.

  4. Soon, Lau Teik and Leo Suryadinata (1988). Moving. into the Pacific Century: The Changing Regional Order in the Asia Pacific. Singapore: Heinemann. pp. 9-23.

  5. UNDP (1994). Human Development Report 1994. UNDP. Delhi. Oxford University Press, pp. 61-89.


  1. UNDP, Human Development Report 1994. Oxford University Press, p.61.

  2. SEAMEO - Southeast Asian Ministers of Education Organisation.

  3. CIDA - Canadian International Development Agency.

  4. Op.cit. pp. 79-80.

  5. SEAMEC - Southeast Asian Ministers of Education Council.

Please cite as: Sutaria, M. C. (1994). International cooperation in learning environment technology: Asian perspective. In J. Steele and J. G. Hedberg (eds), Learning Environment Technology: Selected papers from LETA 94, 338-343. Canberra: AJET Publications.

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