Following several years of collaboration on remote education, NORDUnet and partners in six South Asian countries take things to the next level. Project BeLISAC – Building eLearning Infrastructure in South Asian Countries – seeks to utilize the momentum for e-learning which has swept across the region since the COVID-19 outbreak.
Erik Kikkenborg, Media Services Manager at NORDUnet, explains: “Operating large-scale e-learning services requires both technical know-how and a strong network with fellow specialists. A project such as BeLISAC offers a good opportunity to develop both capabilities, and is something that NORDUnet happily supports”.
The NORDUnet emerging NREN program
The collaboration began in 2016 when NORDUnet initiated its Emerging NREN (national research and education network) program. Here, a number of budding R&E networks were invited to have representatives participate in the NORDUnet Conference and the following NORDUnet Technical Workshops. Similarly, NORDUnet staff would take part in workshops on e-learning in the participating countries, building human networks and supporting the growth of the R&E networking community.
The contact established through the emerging NREN program led to the creation of the Facilitating Distance Learning using Digital Conferencing Facilities project, co-funded by the EU Asi@Connect program, deploying Zoom conferencing facilities in 6 participating Asian countries using NORDUnet expertise. When COVID-19 led to lockdowns in spring 2020 and the use of Zoom really took off, this project proved its worth.
“After the pandemic hit, the NORDUnet servers were flooded, however, alternative hosting at local servers in Bangladesh and other South Asian countries was quickly found”, says Erik Kikkenborg, “and e-learning came to play a key role in keeping South Asian research and education afloat during the lockdowns”.
Mentoring in BeLISAC
By now, remote education has become an integral part of academic activities in all of the participating countries, and the BeLISAC project will strengthen the infrastructure to consolidate this reality, and also prepare further growth in the years to come. The project will see four data centers built in Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, Bhutan, and Nepal.
An important part of the BeLISAC project includes development of human resources and the gender equality dimension. To operate sustainable services for research and education it is critical to develop not only the infrastructure, but also the skills and the committed staff to operate it. To support this dimension, BeLISAC sponsors female engineers from each of the participating NRENs. NORDUnet upholds these engineers in a trainee program focusing on the skills to maintain the infrastructure and operate the service. The trainee program has included a visit to the NORDUnet 2022 conference, introducing the trainees to their peers from global NRENs.
Erik Kikkenborg observes “Mentoring is a great way to help not only individuals but also new communities grow. Conference stipends is a simple and effective way to do that.”
Besides NORDUnet, the participants in BeLISAC count BdREN (Bangladesh), CamREN (Cambodia), LEARN (Sri Lanka), LERNET (Laos), NREN (Nepal), and DrukREN (Bhutan).
Interviews with BeLISAC participants can be found at the South Asia digital new media Arteculate: