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New online learning programme

Dental expert pioneers global learning for overseas health professionals

A project that began by helping dentists in Sri Lanka to update their skills is set to blossom into a global online learning resource for dental and medical professionals around the world.

Oral medicine specialist and lecturer Dr Senathirajah Ariyaratnam (Raj) began visiting the Jaffna area of Sri Lanka in 2011 with support from CMFT Abroad. His aim was to help the 35 dentists and six dental therapists who serve a population of 750,000 people to update their skills and knowledge after the country's devastating civil war.

Raj ran clinics and gave lectures to colleagues in Jaffna, and helped them to set up a Continuing Professional Development (CPD) organisation to run and validate courses, seminars and conferences after he returned to the UK.

Using his annual leave from the University Dental School and Hospital of Manchester, Raj went back to Sri Lanka in 2012 and 2014 and found that the quality of patient care had improved significantly.  Importantly, other specialists from Jaffna's main teaching hospital were helping local dentists to increase their knowledge of cardiology, dermatology and cancer, which all have an impact on dental health.

"I was very keen to sustain all this professional development activity and encourage it to grow," said Raj.  "Although I packed a lot of clinics, lectures and meetings into my three-week visits, Sri Lankan colleagues were keen to do more."

Talking to CMFT Chairman Peter Mount and Professor Ian Jacobs, Director of the Manchester Academic Health Science Centre (MAHSC) and Dean of the University's Faculty of Medical and Human Sciences, Raj came up with a great idea.

  "We realised that we could use the power and reach of the internet to create an online virtual learning community accessible to colleagues anywhere in the world," he explained. "Starting with dental specialties, we are setting up virtual class rooms and skill sharing workshops for overseas colleagues, students and teachers, run by Manchester experts.  We hope the new Manchester Global Online Learning Forum (GOLF) will eventually be a fantastic free resource, particularly for developing countries and those where access to training is difficult.

GOLF is being developed by Raj together with University e-learning technologists Mohammed Islam and Stuart Taylor, with backing from CMFT and MAHSC.  "GOLF can ultimately be used by any academic discipline where Manchester teachers and trainers can exchange ideas/knowledge with different parts of the globe using various online tools. It also offers a great opportunity for us to internationalise Manchester and at the same time allows us to fulfil our global social responsibility to those less fortunate than ourselves," added Raj.

Contact Raj for more details: senathirajah.ariyaratnam@manchester.ac.uk