Distance Education Centre of Latvia (DECL)
DECL has been established to support the development of distance education in Latvia. The aim of the organization is to use up-to-date distance education technologies to foster development of personality, provide opportunities to adapt to changing environment and to learn according to the needs and interests of individuals, supporting life-long learning and development of a well-educated society.
DECL members are legal persons and individuals united by the common aim put forward by the organization. Members of the DECL are leading higher education institutions (HEI) of Latvia, as well as secondary education establishments offering distance education.
DECL was created in 1996 as a public organization and registered on January 10th, 1997. It changed its status and became an Association on January 16th, 2006. On March 26th, 2015 further changes had been initiated to restart activities, involve new members and extend the Board.
Initially DECL was created for the implementation of the PHARE programme “Multi-Country Cooperation in Distance Education” (1995-1999) aiming at promoting the introduction of distance education. PHARE programme (project) planned to introduce distance education in 11 countries of Central and Easter Europe (including Latvia). It was planned in the project to create distance education infrastructure (distance education centres), promote distance education developments and provide staff training, as well as develop distance education courses and international cooperation.
At the end of the project distance education infrastructure was established in Latvia: Distance Education Centre of Latvia (DECL), Regional Distance Education Centre in Liepaja and 3 Distance Education Study Centres (University of Latvia, Riga Technical University, Daugavpils University). Promotion of distance education in Latvia was very successful (radio and TV broadcasts, newspaper articles and workshops) and the term “distance education” (“tālmācība” in Latvian) became very popular. More than 150 educators and other professionals from Latvia have been trained in distance education courses, including distance learning course LOLA (Learning About Open Learning). There was also large participation in workshops and conferences devoted to distance education methodology. Good collaboration with distance education organizations and experts from other countries was established. Through international collaboration distance education courses for learning English language “Make or Break” and MEBA were developed, as well as distance education course BPOM (Business Planning for Open Markets), which is still used at the Riga Technical University in its updated version.
The achieved results show that the PHARE project opened-up the way to distance education developments in Latvia. This project was led by EADTU (European Association of Distance Teaching Universities) and DECL was invited to join EADTU at the end of the project.
Distance Education in 21st century
Developing technologies offer new possibilities for education and distance education started using these opportunities at a very early stage. The start of modern distance education is much associated with the creation of the Open University (UK) in 1969. The Open University in addition to printed course materials started, in collaboration with BBC, to use Radio and TV broadcasts (audio and video) – technologies available at that time. With the development of computer technologies and the internet these opportunities were immediately applied in distance education (Virtual Learning Spaces etc.) for e-learning and online learning.
In traditional education changes are much slower, and just in recent years digitalization of education gains momentum. The EU is aiming at fostering the development of digital skills of the population, introducing digital technologies and virtual platforms in education to support international collaboration of HEI.
At the final phase of the PHARE project (1998 -1999) there was a proposal to continue the developments with the creation of the Virtual University of Latvia, as a common virtual platform for collaboration of HEI in Latvia. This would have been very well fitting to the development trends of the 21st century. This project would allow the collaboration and sharing of resources of HEI in course material development, as well as using a virtual environment for learning and collaboration. Unfortunately, this initiative came too early and did not gain support.