ITLET Standards

The future of eLearning is deeply relying on ITLET (Information technologies for Learning, Education and Training) international standards. The sub-committee 36 of ISO (ISO/IEC JTC1 SC36), responsible for standardizing ITLET, is certainly one of the most prominent international institutions concerned with worldwide use of interoperable ICT in education. One of the core issues this subcommittee is in charge of, aims at preserving cultural and linguistic diversity a well as equal access to education for all.

Nevertheless, this engagement of SC36 in promoting international educational standards, suffers a key drawback: an unbalanced representation of countries, cultures and languages in its P-Member NBLOs (National Bodies and Liaison Organizations). Although very common to all Technical Committees and Sub-Committees, such a drawback is resulting from several obstacles that provoke nonattendance of many countries to the international standardization effort conducted by SC36. Some of these obstacles may be explained by the common unawareness of the strategic importance of e-Learning standards for education systems and policies. Some national bodies also argue that the financial charges prevent from a perseverant attendence to standardization meetings. But I think that the main obstacle still lies in the communication and propaganda strategy that needs to be concentrated, not on the standardization process itself, but by demonstrating the economic, cultural and linguistic outcomes from interoperable standards using concrete indicators. These indicators can actually have much more impact on many decisions makers concerned with justifying their involvement in an international activity that engages expenses and needs budgeting.

This looks like a problem concerning exclusively emerging countries, but I suppose that all stakeholders, both in developed and underdeveloped countries must be aware and implicated into the work undertaken by international standardization bodies. It is in fact true at a certain extent that producing interoperable international standards is addressing emerging communities most of all, because they still need a theoretical framework for the exchange of their own resources and the promulgation of their accessibility fully respecting their linguistic, disciplinary, and institutional diversities. Defending local specifications in the international standardization committees should be assumed as a sovereignty duty that they need handle with deeper concern as for their future positioning in the global knowledge society. They are on the front line to defend their own economic, cultural, and linguistic identity and prevent the deepening of the North-South digital divide.

Some emerging countries are already memebers of SC36, probably because they are aware of the potentials that standardization may yield through ICT, but most of them, if not all, are inattentive to the working sessions of SC36 where conclusive decisions are discussed and taken in their names. International standards are de juré standards. They are produced with international consensus and then applied by major industries for international market needs. Emerging countries need be more vigilant on this issue and take more initiatives to participate into international standardization bodies in order to defend their own specifications and peculiarities. Many technologies and processing rules produced without participation of emerging countries have demonstrated incompatibility and incoherence when applied into different cultural and linguistic contexts. Let us just remind the example of the “forgotten” writing systems in Unicode that resulted from the non-implication of the concerned linguistic communities in the standard definition. The ongoing complexities in handling certain  bi-directional and bilingual computer interfaces also reflects some aspects of incoherence due to latin biased technological standards.

The question however is about who participates in the international standardization bodies and who has the ability both in human and financial resources to attend their working sessions? ISO is well organized as a parent instance of the UN according to the principle "one country, one vote". In the SC36, this principle favors the richest states almost exclusively located in the North. Of the 32 current member states of SC36, the decision-making power, while theoretically given to a universal consensus, is largely influenced by the colors of the North and especially the founding fathers distributed between French (France, Canada) and Anglo-Saxon (United States, United Kingdom and Australia) speaking communities.

However, the development of a regulatory framework for ITLET respectful of the cultural, linguistic, economic and geopolitical diversity is still possible. It needs stronger participation of emerging countries from Africa and Southeast Asia who are facing a strong cultural and linguistic disparity. In the absence of contributions of these communities to give visibility to their own ad hoc digital educational resources, e-Learning of the future could develop as a strict annex to north American and English e-Learning. Therefore, they will reproduce for e-Learning the equivalent of global Hollywood hyperculture and then should suffer the consequences of economic, and especially academic and research, dependency that would result.

More and more international standardization bodies are engaged today at all stages of building consensus that delegates and experts can protect diversity of access to knowledge while preserving individual freedoms and universal common good transmission of knowledge. The normative process establishes at level of national standards bodies, but also at the World Assembly of almost all states (ISO), a governance framework, and emulation of products and services, which, without that, would be left to their only competition and leads to paralyzing considerably the harmonious development of technologies. And this is especially true in ITLET.