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THE CONCEPT OF DISTANCE LEARNING AND ITS CHALLENGES . BY PROFESSOR FRANCIS O. EGBOKHARE University of Ibadan Ibadan. Introduction The modern crises are, in fact, man made and differ from many of their predecessors in that they can be dealt with.
PROFESSOR FRANCIS O. EGBOKHARE
University of Ibadan
The term distance learning has been used to mean various things in the Nigerian parlance. This is more so that any practice where people have to gather together periodically for the purpose of acquiring higher education is regarded as distance learning. The closure of satellite campuses and study centers by the National Universities Commission has led to the use of the term as a modern terminology for essentially the same practice. This is a case of old wine in new wine skin. Apart from Tertiary Institutions which use the term often as alternative to part time studies, it has become common practice for tutorial centers for all kinds of certificate courses to refer to themselves as distance learning centers. After all no one has a monopoly of the term.
Economic strength which is founded in political and military might is fast decaying. In the 21st century, economic power will be derived from skills and innovation. Nations that don’t invest in skills will weaken…in the knowledge economy, what you know is more important than where you live. (Louis V. Gerstner JR.).
What is new is how much more important knowledge is today as a source of economic advantage and military strength. But tools that are crucial to improving productivity become more and more complex with each new generation, and therefore they require more and more knowledge and training to get the most out of them. So over time, artisans became professionals and practical thinking became more scientific. (Wladawsky-Berger cf. Thomas L Friedman: The Exhausting Race for Ideas)
It is now well known that we are in the age of human capital. Human capital means education, training, and skills that give people greater command over knowledge so that they are more productive. How well individuals and economies succeed is now determined mainly by how successful they are in investing and commanding the stock of knowledge. Education, skills and training account for 75% of the wealth of modern economies leaving only 25% to the stock of physical capital. (Andy Rosenfield)
The above underscores the fact that that information has become the driver of growth in economies and development in general. The internet functions in this age as the engine in the industrial age. Information technology is the electricity of the information age and the internet is the equivalent of the electric engine. The basis of productivity and competitiveness has shifted from the production of natural resources and trade in commodities to the production of knowledge.
The United States Distance Learning Association defines it as “the acquisition of knowledge and skills through mediated information and instruction, encompassing all technologies and other forms of learning at a distance.” “It is instruction that occurs when the instructor and the student are separated in time and space or both”.(Western cooperative for Educational Telecommunications). Moore 1966 defines it as planned learning that normally occurs from a different place as teaching and as a result, requires special techniques, special methods of communication by electronic and other technology, as well as special organizational and administrative arrangements”.
Some examples are correspondence education, using the television and radio as educational media. The Internet and the computer could also be media for distance education. Computer based learning resources and web based learning resources may be deployed to drive distance learning activities. These media may be used exclusively or in combination, in what has come to be known as blended learning.
Table 1: Showing no of Universities per population
Table 2: JAMB Application and Admission Profiles into Nigerian Universities
It is clear from the above that the problem of access to higher education in Nigeria has created numerous other problems bothering on quality and credibility of degrees. Professor O A Bamiro, Vice Chancellor of the University of Ibadan puts the issue in perspective thus:
To quickly grasp the problem of access to HE in the country let me share with you the result of the admissions exercise conducted at the University of Ibadan for the 2005/2006 session. The University adopted a system that combined three elements: JAMB’s UME scores; performance in SSCE/WASC/NECO; and performance in the Oral Interview. The combined performance in UME and SSCE/WASC/NECO formed the basis of invitation to the Oral Interview. This has come to be known in the university system as the UI Model. The summary of the results of the post UME screening exercise using the UI Model is as follows:
iii. The Challenge:The Dilemma of the Iron Triangle
(Increasing Access while improving quality)
“Suppose, in response to the increasing demand for higher education, the access is increased by admitting more students; as the numbers grow, the recruitment, training and payment of lecturers cannot keep pace, particularly in most developing countries of Africa that are already facing the brain drain syndrome. Class sizes increase and, as to be expected, quality of learning goes down. If quality is to be improved through provision of more books and learning materials in support of lectures, the cost of teaching will go up, leading either to fewer students or higher fees. Thus, any attempt to improve one side of the triangle leads to undesirable changes in the other two sides”. (Bamiro O A 2007)
“Most have assumed that higher education is locked in an iron triangle defined by the vectors of access, quality and cost as presented earlier. The iron triangle emphasizes the limitations of the traditional f2f (face-to-face) lecture method in conventional universities and explains why countries are finding the expansion of higher education expensive. It is no longer easy to build another Ibadan or ABU. In other words the present system is not easily scalable. May be we should look in other directions to scale up.
Available evidence in literature points to the fact that information and communication technology (ICT) can be deployed to operate on the three sides of the iron triangle to achieve mutually positive changes. ICTs do not only enable increased access, they may also improve the quality of education to the extent that they make it easier to access vast amounts of information, facilitate presentation of materials using multimedia and collaboration with others to improve classroom experience and ultimately lead to improved cognitive skills.
ICT-induced expansion of access at reduced cost is being achieved through distance education, open content initiative for learning by students and the collaborative content initiative for teaching by lecturers and learning by students. The creation of the UK Open University (UKOU) in 1969 ushered in the concept of distance learning which was later enhanced by the deployment of ICTs. The UKOU was established on the basis of conviction by Walter Perry, the founding vice-chancellor. He began with a cohort of 25,000 students. He had the conviction that by using modern communications media and providing personal academic support to students, the effectiveness of university teaching could be transformed and access to higher education dramatically broadened. Today, with 200,000 students, the UKOU operates well below the costs of other universities and holds fifth place in national rankings of teaching quality, just above Oxford. In 2005 it came first in a national survey of student satisfaction conducted on behalf of the UK government”(Daniel and Kanwar, 2006) (Bamiro O A 2007: The Challenges of Higher Education in Nigeria).
Source: Institutional Statistics 1995