The Need for Policy Framework in Maintaining Quality in Open and Distance Education Pragrammes in Southern Africa

Rebecca LEKOKO

The ideals of education for all as proposed by UNESCO (2000) cannot be achieved without tapping into all the existing educational delivery systems. Open and distance education system has caught the attention of a number of Southern African Universities as a viable and ‘Siamese’ twin of the conventional education in achieving flexibility, open and greater access for the heterogeneous clientele of the region. Despite the glowing virtues of distance education, this mode is still looked down upon by some people as inferior to the conventional teaching and learning processes. Paradoxically, learning through the distance education mode has a greater potential to provide education for more learners than the conventional education system. In a dynamic society such as the Southern African region, development has made education a phenomenon that transcends the four walls of the formal classrooms. Thus, a policy framework is needed to ensure that quality education is provided for learners of diverse cultures, including economic background and geographical regions. Such a framework is not only a basic requirement for positive development of the newly emerging distance education institutions but also an essential instrument for the continued success of the long established institutions, both single and dual mode. The proposed policy framework addresses some of the following (i) academic (e.g. course integrity, transferability and accreditation); (ii) governance, (e.g. tuition, fiscal regulation); (iii) faculty (e.g. training, workload, support and evaluation); (iv) legal (e.g. intellectual property, students and institutional liability); (v) technical (e.g. physical delivery networks, systems reliability, setup and infrastructural support); (vi) culture and (vii) economics, (e.g. direct and indirect costs of distance education). All these aspects can deter or stimulate certain group of people to develop interest and consequently enrol for learning through the distance education mode. In this paper, our aim is to stimulate dialogue on the significance, scope of coverage and the processes of formulating a policy framework for maintaining academic excellence as opposed to mediocrity. We are, however, mindful of the fact that practices are diverse in the region, but regardless of this diversity, a regional policy framework is possible to regulate the planning, development and implementation of quality distance education programmes across all levels of education, with particular focus on higher institutions of learning.

KEYWORDS: Academic Excellence, Transferability and Accreditation, UNESCO, Virtues of Distance Education, Open and Distance Education System, and Implementation of Quality Distance Education Programmes.