“Now more than ever, new forms of regional and international cooperation are needed to confront the problems of an interconnected but fragmenting world. Similarly, while we have seized upon the power and possibilities of the new technologies, we have yet to demonstrate convincingly its power to transform learning in educational settings. I can think of no one better prepared than SEAMEO INNOTECH to address challenges like these.”
International education changed with the International Conference on Education for All in Jomtien, Thailand in 1990. Those of us who were lucky to attend witnessed the birth of a new vision and determination to make educational opportunities available to everyone. The “can do” Jomtien spirit and framework for action were infectious and would be renewed in the decades to follow.
The year after Jomtien saw a sharpening of concepts and mobilization of efforts to advance Education for All (EFA). Calls to action were sounded regionally. I was privileged to take part in the call to action for Asia, which took place in the historic setting of the Manila Hotel, through the Third SEAMEO INNOTECH International Conference. The choice of this event to serve as a kind of Jomtien II was not a surprise. One of the principal architects of EFA was the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization’s (UNESCO) Dr. Victor Ordonez from the Philippines who knew well that he could count upon his colleague Dr. Minda Sutaria, Director of SEAMEO INNOTECH, to mount an event that would give legs to EFA in Asia.
Dr. Sutaria and her staff did not disappoint. The event, opened by the late Philippine President Corazon Aquino, and Federico Mayor, Director-General of UNESCO, was inspiring. Add to that the participants from the Philippines and the rest of the world providing a burst of energy for EFA. It also gave me my first taste of what I would come to call the SEAMEO INNOTECH magic — a heady blend of substance and flow that is found in so many INNOTECH activities.
What mattered was not what was said at the conference but what happened after. For us in the Education Development Center in USA, it led to a partnership with INNOTECH that played out for over 26 years. The activities, large and small, are too numerous to mention in the short space here. However, the most inspiring was the partnership to support EFA in the years following Jomtien.
Today, we forget that when EFA began in the early 1990s, few people predicted the meaningful role of technology in accomplishing EFA goals, especially since basic education most often meant primary school education, and technology was not seen as a welcome visitor. It was regarded as too expensive and ill-suited to the requirements of classroom instruction for children. At Jomtien, it was acceptable to talk about distance education, but that was not a strategy appropriate for young learners.
A curtain opening in the prevailing skepticism about technology came from James Grant, former Executive Director of the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), who spoke about the possibilities offered by the third channel as a means to deliver basic education. The first and second channels were formal and nonformal education. The third channel was the unplanned array of informal learning experiences through the use of traditional and modern means of communication. Mr. Grant’s idea of a third channel garnered much attention at Jomtien and led to lively discussions. Subsequently, UNICEF’s operationalization of the term put emphasis on a multichannel perspective, which called for a coordinated and reinforcing use of various media and other paths to learning. 
In 1993, with support from the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) and the International Council for Distance Education (ICDE), a group called the International Multichannel Action Group for Education (IMAGE) came together to explore the notion of multichannel learning and how it could be applied to basic education in developing countries. IMAGE meetings were lively, drawing expertise from organizations from developing countries, such as India’s National Open School, and representatives from organizations such as UNESCO, UNICEF, the World Bank, the French Government, the UK Open University, and the Commonwealth of Learning.
A guiding light on the IMAGE Steering Committee was Dr. Sutaria. She understood the need for new strategies and methods — channels — for access and quality to achieve education for all. Consistent with SEAMEO INNOTECH’s mandate to encourage educational innovation and technology, Dr. Sutaria and her colleagues were instrumental in giving the idea of multichannel learning’s practical significance by showing how a multichannel perspective was already being applied in educational interventions. The Philippines’ No Drops Project provided an illustrative example. Dr. Sutaria highlighted this experience in a major IMAGE plenary panel presentation at the 1995 ICDE conference in Birmingham, England, hosted by the UK Open University. [ii]
With the explosive growth of connectivity, the Internet, more affordable mobile technologies, and the new culture of economic and social life taking place after Jomtien, the term multichannel learning as a rallying concept to advance EFA had a short shelf-life. No longer, it seemed, was technology a dirty word in education. Many of the technology skeptics at Jomtien became champions. Furthermore, the multichannel learning perspective continues to offer a sound basis for designing educational activities.
In the next two decades, I found many occasions to partner with INNOTECH. They routinely exceeded the unfairly high expectations I had for “delivering the goods” in activity design, research, training, and knowledge management. As I look back, it was the leadership they provided in the exciting years after Jomtien to push forward the EFA agenda that stands out in my mind. It is a bright chapter in the SEAMEO INNOTECH story — and a piece of heritage to inspire work in the next 50 years. There are big challenges lying ahead.
Now more than ever, new forms of regional and international cooperation are needed to confront the problems of an interconnected but fragmenting world. Similarly, while we have seized upon the power and possibilities of the new technologies, we have yet to demonstrate convincingly its power to transform learning in educational settings. I can think of no one better prepared than SEAMEO INNOTECH to address challenges like these.
i. Mayo, J., and Chieuw, J. SF. (1993). The third cahnnel: Broadening learning horizons. New York: United Nations Children’s Fund.
ii. Sutaria, M. (1995). Multichannel learning: The Philippines experience. In S. Anzalone (Ed.). Multichannel learning: Connecting all to education. Washingtoon: Education Development Center.