What are some of the issues relevant to distance education in sub-Saharan Africa? Some of these issues relate to the ‘push’ factors of distance education in sub-Saharan Africa, which include overcrowded tertiary institutions, the need for training in a globalised high-technology world, and the problem of government funding. These ‘push’ factors seem to match the alleged advantages of distance education such as its nonrequirement of residential facilities and its ability to accommodate a flexible number of students at a low cost. It was hoped that new technology, such as computer-based training and the Internet, would provide a medium to which individualised and flexible learning materials could be supplied and which, through online interaction, a form of support for distance education learning could be provided. In this article, we focus on the particular distance education issues in sub-Saharan Africa, such as the lack of government funding and the lack of affordability by potential distance education students, as well as reasons why new technology, such as computerbased learning and online courses which are popular in the developed world, are impractical in developing countries of sub-Saharan Africa. A case study of a sub- Saharan country, Ghana, is provided to demonstrate why various distance education programmes have failed and why information and communications technology (ICT)-based training, despite its promising future, lacks the supporting infrastructure in Ghana that it requires in order to operate effectively.
Distance education could be defined as a set of teaching and learning strategies that are utilised in order to manage spatial and temporal separation between the educators and learners. Early distance education focused on print-based material, similar to lecture notes used in the classroom. Later, distance education utilised audio and video media (Adea, 2002). Now, many distance education programmes utilise ICT which tends to focus on the World Wide Web but which may include computer-aided visualisation and instruction and computer conferencing. The advantages of ICT-based training include a sense of presence in online interaction with others, improved learning support, asynchronous learning, and global access to resources and teachers. Another important advantage is the availability of content management systems that allow culturally-specific material to be edited or removed for a new audience. However, ICT-based education requires access to a computer, which may be impractical at times such as during a student’s commute. Mobile technology, which allows access to ICT-based learning anytime, may be a solution (McIntosh, 2005; Thorpe, 2005).
In terms of cost, residential education tends to be very labour-intensive while distance education tends to be very capital-intensive but with low flexible costs. The reason for the particularities of distance education costs is that high costs are involved in developing course materials but once developed, these course materials can be reused by thousands of students and, thus, the cost of course development can be easily recouped. E-learning, the presentation of computer materials electronically usually through information technology, has varying patterns of cost. A comparison of course preparation costs for a one hour lecture are as follows: 2-10 hours in a residential education setting, 50 hours for printed text distance education lecture, and 100 hours for a one hour video lecture. Development of computer-based teaching material tends to be more costly; costs vary depending on the approach taken with the computer-based textual approach being the cheapest and virtual reality being the most expensive. It has been argued that distance education interactive courses, which use media such as the Internet to help students communicate with other students and the lecturer during a distance education lecture, reduce cost because less of the lecturer’s time is needed because students are able to learn from peers. The consensus is that interactive courses take up to twice as much of the lecturer’s time than face-to-face lectures due to the volume of individual replies (Rumble & Litto, 2005). Learners also find it difficult to participate during the window of time where group activities are scheduled (Thorpe, 2005). Due to the high cost of developing distance education materials, the number of courses offered is usually quite limited (Rumble & Litto, 2005).
Key Terms in this Chapter
Pilot Project: A small guidance project that is instituted in a small domain and that is specifically designed to be tested in this domain, in order to detect and correct any problems with the project, before being expanded to a larger domain.
Distance Education: A formalised teaching and learning system that is offered to students remotely without the use of classrooms or face-to-face interaction with their lecturers. This teaching and learning may involve the use of computer-based or simple textual learning materials.
Residential Education: A traditional form of learning where a student undergoes in-class instruction and is able to interact with fellow students and lecturers on a personal level.
Telecentres: A community-based centre that offers computer usage to the public for free or for a self-sustaining fee. They may also offer computer literacy training programmes and Internet access.
Online Course: A formal course of instruction that is offered by the distance learning institution to the student using the Internet as a medium. Often, students are able to download course material, upload assignments, undergo online assessment, and communicate with lecturers and staff via the Internet.
E-Learning: Computer-enhanced learning which may involve the use of Web-based teaching materials, multimedia CD-ROMs, educational animations and simulations, computer-aided assessment, e-mail, and electronic bulletin boards.
Mobile Learning: A formal course of distance education instruction that uses, as a medium, connected mobile devices, such as cell phones and personal digital assistants. This type of learning uses the easy connectivity of mobile devices to send frequent short messages that serve as learning material in order to maintain constant contact with the student while avoiding the capacity limitations of mobile devices. Mobile learning differs from e-learning in that it utilises e-learning but it enables the student to learn outside of a fixed location.