Open Distance Learning: The changing face of education
The demand for the provision of Private Higher & Further Education and Training in South Africa has increased significantly over the last 18 years. The is as a consequence of the traditional universities experiencing marked over subscriptions, resulting in students not being accepted as well as in less favourable academic staff to student ratios. The changing face of education, coupled with geographical factors in South Africa has also contributed to a demand for distance education also referred to as Open Distance Learning (ODL).
ODL is an approach to education which removes all the unnecessary barriers imposed on learning through location and work constraints. This allows as many people as possible to take advantage of meaningful learning opportunities throughout their lives. As an accepted and indispensable part of the mainstream of educational systems in both developed and developing countries, ODL has proved its worth by enabling any prospective student to register and study for a qualification at their own pace, in their own place in their own time.
There are over 70 Accredited Private providers of Distance Higher Education in South Africa who are registered with the Department of Education of which about 40% have provisional accreditation. In a recent overview of distance learning it was reported that 85% of the higher education students that were studying through distance education were registered with South Africa’s only single mode institution, the University Of South Africa (UNISA). Considering that over the last 10 years in South Africa, 40% of higher education enrollments, on average, have been for distance learning it is imperative that higher learning institutions adopt ODL and offer relevant, up to date course content utilising technology where possible.
Durban based PC Training and Business College (PCT&BC), with over 70 campuses nationally, has been proactive in meeting these demands. “We began implementing our strategy of making learning available to more potential learners, be they students, employers or those currently employees by introducing the Tablet in late 2011. Besides the obvious environmental benefits of using less paper in the learning process, the tablet allows learners to access material wherever they have internet access. The next logical step in the process has been to create a Virtual Learning Environment (VLE), which is currently in progress” says PCT&BC Chief Executive Officer, Jay Ramnundall.
Ramnundall also stated that “Our strategy brings us in line with the recent comments by the Minister of Higher Education & Training, Blade Nzimande, where he called for colleges to be open for longer hours and on weekends in order to accommodate the working class. Our registration with the Department of Higher Education as a Private Higher Education Institution under the Higher Education Act 1998, where we are now fully accredited to provide courses in Open Distance Learning makes us available to this sector”.
An ever increasing number of higher education institutions are transforming themselves from single mode to dual mode institutions, recognizing the importance of distance education in providing students with the best and most up-to-date educational resources available in addition to the traditional teaching methods that they receive.
PC Training & Business College CEO, Jay Ranmundalal said “If the fundamental right of all people to access learning is to be realised, we need to move towards e-learning methods such as open distance learning, affording everyone an opportunity to quality education.”
When questioned about the main factors that were considered in the implementation of Open Distance Learning, Jay went to say; “it is the growing need for continual skills upgrading, retraining and the technological advances that have made it possible to teach more and more subjects at a distance”.
According to the census statistics 2011, more than 50% of people in South Africa now have access to the internet from home. This generates massive opportunity for individuals who previously could not access institutions of higher learning owing to geographical or work restraints. Director of the ODL at PCT&BC, Professor Ahmed Sadeq Adam said, “Over the years, the approach to teaching, methodologies, technology and content have changed substantially to incorporate international standards in teaching and learning. The use of e-learning, m-learning and v-learning techniques have opened new doors to the way we teach and learn and these modes of technological advancement take us to a whole new level of teaching and learning.“
Professor Adam has identified the advantages of ODL to the various sectors as follows:
- For the student/learner, ODL means increased access and flexibility as well as the combination of work and education. It may also mean a more learner-centred approach, enrichment, higher quality and new ways of interaction.
- For employers it offers high quality and more efficient ways cost effective professional development in the workplace. It allows upgrading of skills, increased productivity and development of a new learning culture. In addition, it means sharing of costs, of training time, and increased portability of training.
- For the currently employed an opportunity to improve their skills, offers a great degree of flexibility to earn while you earn and self improvement.
- For governments the main potential is to increase the capacity and cost effectiveness of education and training systems, to reach target groups with limited access to conventional education and training, to support and enhance the quality and relevance of existing educational structures, to ensure the connection of educational institutions and curricula to the emerging networks and information resources, and to promote innovation and opportunities for lifelong learning.
With the rapid development of information and communication technologies (ICTs) and the move towards more knowledge-intensive, interdependent and internationalized societies this creates new challenges and opportunities for the design and delivery of education. It is clear that private colleges are necessary in assisting the government to provide potential students an alternative to means to accessing education. The globalization of ODL provides many opportunities for developing countries for the realization of their education system-wide goals and opens up new horizons for progress and the exchange of creativity and intercultural dialogue.
Article issued by PC Training & Business College