Equity in Distance Education

Equity in Distance Education

J. Willems (Monash University, Australia)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-4666-3978-2.ch002
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Within the context of distance education, an understanding of the impact of social justice issues is crucial for informing research, practice, funding, and policy. Equity and the related concerns of access, social inclusion, and ethics impact all levels of distance education, from the macro (research and development, including the globalisation of distance education), through the meso (community and open learning, including choices in educational technology), and down to the micro (teaching and learning, including choices in curriculum design). As a consequence, a modification to the macro-meso-micro framework of distance education is called for: one that situates equity at a meta level. This meta level encompasses all aspects in the field of distance education, and acts as a guide for policy-makers, academics, and administrators on planning, decision-making, and practice within the discipline.
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Distance, Transnational, And Borderless Education

Historically, distance education—or correspondence study as it was then known—grew out of the need to make education accessible to those who wanted a formal education, or to obtain key industry-related qualifications, but could not gain these through the traditional on-campus, post-secondary pathways. Before this time, as Gunawardena and McIsaac (2004, pp. 356–357) note that:

[E]ducation had been available primarily to males in higher levels of society. The most effective form of instruction in those days was to bring students together in one place and one time to learn from one of the masters...Correspondence study, [alternatively] was designed to provide educational opportunities for those who were not among the elite and who could not afford full time residence at an educational institution...

Early correspondence style modes evolved during the 1800s to answer this call for widening participation beyond privileged males in society. While on one level, this appears to have made provision for early equity and access solutions, it masks the reality that it still did not provide educational access for all. For example, one of the earliest forms of distance education, Pitman’s correspondence courses (Matthews, 1999) trained participants in the abbreviated sign system of shorthand. However, this was still only provided accessibility for a small percentage of the population training for professional careers. These students were already literate in terms of their reading and writing abilities, and hence in the position to take on the study of a second language via correspondence mode (in this case, the second language being Pitman’s short-hand).

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