Small island nations, especially Maldives, encounter a number of limitations in providing services to their people due to their size. These services include education, health, communications, and many other public services. These island nations consist of very small islands with a very low population density on most islands. The low population density on the islands limits the infrastructure developments mainly due to the lack of the economies of scale. For example, building a secondary school on an island with a population of less than 500 people does not provide economies of scale, but rather makes it economically a wastage of resources. An island this size would not have an adequate number of students per teacher, and particularly in developing countries, the public expenditure budget is so much deflated that this cannot be considered an alternative. Distance education is seen as an appealing alternative to traditional face-to-face education in these countries as it can provide education from a central location without having to spend a lot in developing infrastructure on several islands. Although it is easier to achieve economies of scale through distance-mode delivery of education, this alternative poses additional barriers that need to be addressed prior to establishing a distance-mode education system. This chapter looks at these barriers and describes a distance education model that addresses most of these barriers.
Distance education provides formal education where the instructors and learners are physically separated and interactive telecommunications systems are used to connect learners, resources, and instructors (Schlosser & Simonson, 2002). Distance education has traditionally been used to provide public education about agriculture, health, literacy, and basic education mainly for the adult population (Perraton, 2000). However, distance education usage in higher education is rapidly growing all over the world. The development of open universities in 25 developing countries has been a major achievement in this growth during the last 20 years (Perraton, 2000). However, these institutions depend on distance education models developed and tested elsewhere, making it alien to themselves (Koul, 1995).
As aforementioned, small island nations face many barriers due to their small population sizes. There have been some efforts among different island nations to join forces in order to achieve economic viability. For example, the University of South Pacific (USP) and University of West Indies (UWI) are attempting to address broader regional needs rather than just the national needs. USP has three campuses located in Fiji, Vanuatu, and Samoa, and national facilities in 12 other countries (University of South Pacific, Online). University of South Pacific uses satellite links between these campuses and national facilities. Although the network is heavily used for administrative purposes, it is also used regularly for regional tutorials. The technology allows staff-to-staff communication and staff-to-student communication across different campuses (Perraton, 2000). Distance programmes are taught using locally developed print-based materials supported by a range of other media and resources. Tutorial support is provided for these programmes both in face-to-face contact as well as via technology. Frequently, audiotapes are used to complement the programmes as well as videotapes on occasional instances. All the programmes get support from the human network of full- or part-time staff widely dispersed in the local centres. All these services are centrally coordinated at University Extension (Matthewson & Va’a, 1999).
Key Terms in this Chapter
Open University: A university that is open to people without formal academic qualifications and where teaching is done using distance education means.
Developing Countries: Those countries that are in the process of becoming industrialized but have constrained resources with which to combat their economical problems.
Three-Tier Model: A model consisting of a headquarters, and regional and student modules. The student module is the interface for the student and it communicates only with the regional module. The regional module acts an intermediary between the student and the headquarters module. The regional module also aggregates all the communications from the individual students before sending them to the headquarters and vice versa
Two-Layered Approach: An approach similar to the CD-ROM-Internet hybrid model where both online and off-line approaches are used to reach the students. This approach uses the Internet to communicate between the headquarters module and regional modules, and CD-ROMs to deliver the content to the students
Adaptivity: Allows the content and the display of the content to be altered according to the characteristics of any individual user. It provides a dynamic adaptation of the content and appearance based on each individual user.
Small Island Nations: According to the U.N. definition, they are low-lying coastal countries that share similar sustainable development challenges, including small population, lack of resources, remoteness, susceptibility to natural disasters, excessive dependence on international trade, and vulnerability to global developments. In addition, they suffer from lack of economies of scale, high transportation and communication costs, and costly public administration and infrastructure
Individualised Instruction: Providing dynamic content and presentation based on individual preferences, attitudes, and knowledge
CD-Web Hybrid Systems: A combination of CD-ROM and Internet to deliver distance education to students. A system that looks into achieving the best of both worlds using the speed of CD-ROMs and the currency of the Internet. This can also be seen as a two-layered model where the CD-ROM is one layer and the Internet is the other, with each carrying out a different function of the system