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November 23, 1995

UNITED NATIONS BRINGS INTERACTIVE TELEVISION TO THE DEVELOPING WORLD FOR DISTANCE LEARNING

By CBR Staff Writer

Two agencies of the near-bankrupt United Nations Organisation have started a pilot project to use interactive television for distance learning in developing countries. It is expected to cost $2.4m in money or in kind. The United Nations Educational Scientific and Cultural Organisation and the International Telecommunications Union believe the system will offer the student a chance to respond to the teacher rather than being the passive recipient of standard educational broadcasting. The system will be used for training teachers as well as children and adults. A broadcast based interactive distance learning system will be set up in one or more developing countries. Programmes will be broadcast via both terrestrial and satellite channels offering video, audio and data. The terrestrial option will be for urban sites, while satellite delivery will be used for more rural areas. The return path will be just audio and data because of the expense of a video back channel and will be via the public telephone network and via Very Small Aperture Terminal in rural locations. The Telecommunications Union hopes computer and communications companies will offer equipment and expertise for the project. Initial financial support has been obtained from the US Department of State. Hewlett-Packard Co and AT&T South Africa are offering support to the project as well, although Allyn Enderlyn of the ITU’s Telecommunication Development Bureau, who is charged with mobilising the resources for the project, said the precise role of these companies has not yet been determined. Further announcements are expected in about a month’s time. The country has not yet been decided, but the ITU said it needs to be one that has a large population not reached by the traditional education system. The country’s government will be expected to contribute cash or in kind. The project will pass planning and finance stages by the end of the year. Work will start immediately on the first system scheduled for operation early 1998.

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