Fraser Valley Distance Education is becoming part of history.
Belize’s history.FVDES recently hosted three teaching delegates from Belize who learned all about Chilliwack’s distance learning (DL) programs to take back to their country – a first for the developing nation.
“The experience we gain here is definitely going to help our students,” said Dr. Lorna McKay, principal of Gwen Lizarrage high school in Belize City.
Last August, Gwen Lizarrage launched the country’s first open learning school for its night division students – mostly females, young moms, 16 years and older, struggling in the conventional face-to-face style of learning. For many of them, attending classes four days a week, on top of their other responsibilities, proved too difficult.
But with online learning, education can be broadened beyond the walls of the school.
“This will help bring a greater awareness for our students in low-socioeconomic backgrounds,” said Maxine McKay, a professor at the University of Belize.
“It will give them a brighter future in education, they won’t have to live in poverty anymore, but will live to see a future.”
Fraser Valley Distance Education is playing a significant role in that transformation.
Last spring, Dave Manuel, principal of FVDES, was contacted by Commonwealth of Learning, an intergovernmental organization that helps developing nations, like Belize, improve access to quality education and training through distance education knowledge, resources and technologies.
And because of the extensive history FVDES has in DL, it was seen by Commonwealth of Learning as a leading force.
“Some countries are not interested in open learning,” because of the believed stigma that it’s a lesser model of education, said Frances Ferreira, education specialist with Commonwealth of Learning. “But if we come to them with examples like Fraser Valley Distance Education and show their successes, then we’ll get the buy in.”
Through Commonwealth of Learning, Manuel was introduced to Maxine McKay. The two put their heads together and developed a partnership they hope will soon put Belize on the map for DL.
Last May, FVDES vice principal Sharon Bernard went to Gwen Lizarrage high school to help streamline it for online learning. And two weeks ago, the Belizean teachers were in Chilliwack job shadowing FVDES teachers, learning online policies and regulations, reviewing the various courses, gaining insight into the tricks of the trade – sponging up any bit of knowledge they could take back home with them.
“These teachers have pedagogy, they have tons of classroom experience, but they don’t have any reference points for DL,” said Bernard. “Whereas we have a huge background.”
Teachers from both schools have also committed to an ongoing mentoring relationship, with the goal of helping Gwen Lizarrage smoothly transition into DL without the hiccups and stumbling blocks FVDES has already overcome.
Belize is just the beginning, said Manuel.
With 71 million children around the world not being educated, according to the 2012 UNESCO report, Fraser Valley Distance Ed and DL specifically could play a huge role in improving those statistics.