Recently, the Commonwealth of Learning (COL) contracted Saide to support in the implementation of improvement initiatives at the University of Namibia and University of Zambia. The main target at these institutions are units that offer distance education programmes. At the beginning of November, Ephraim Mhlanga from Saide facilitated a three-day project design workshop at the Centre for Distance and e-Learning (CODeL) at the University of Namibia (UNAM). The purpose of the workshop was to support UNAM to conduct a Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, and Threats (SWOT) analysis, collect baseline data, and enhance understanding of how to roll out high quality distance education and e-learning in the university, and identify improvement project activities to be implemented over the next three years with COL support.
The need to expand access to higher education is becoming more and more pressing in most countries in Sub-Saharan Africa. This is partly due to the perceived social benefits of higher education and partly as result of the realisation that Africa lags far behind other regions of the world in terms of higher education participation. Latest figures (UIIS,2010) show gross enrolment rates (GER) of the order of 6% in Africa while the global average is 26%. There is also a big gap between GER of upper secondary and tertiary education in African countries. Moreover, with a burgeoning youth population in Africa of more than 60% being under the age of 25, demand for higher education is likely to be on the increase for the foreseeable future. Limited access to higher education has a profound negative impact on social and economic development. It is generally believed that graduates with a higher education degree will lead to better employment prospects, social empowerment and innovation which eventually leads to better and more sustainable livelihoods.
COL Strategic objective
It is against this background that between 2016 – 2021 COL’s strategic focus is to promote learning for sustainable development. To give effect to this strategic focus, COL is supporting and strengthening the capacity of higher education institutions to impact on sustainable livelihoods by expanding access to high quality education through distance education and e-Learning.
Accordingly, COL has identified a number of universities to support implementing development interventions using a specially designed holistic and integrated approach, the Higher Education Integrated Approach. According to Romeela Mohee, the COL Higher Education specialist, the integrated model looks at the lifecycle of the learner across the higher education system; from enrolment to graduation and entering the job market. The model prioritises open and distance learning to increase access, while maintaining quality and decreasing costs with the ultimate objective to create more employable graduates to contribute to the socioeconomic development.
UNAM has made a bold decision to roll out distance education and e-Learning programmes as a way of expanding access to higher education. Through the Centre for Distance and e-Learning (CODeL), UNAM has already started offering several distance education programmes with a total student enrolment of 4114. According to the Director of CODeL, Dr Maggy Beukes-Amiss, this enrolment is poised to grow quite substantially over the coming few years as more distance education programmes are in the pipeline. However, the university realises its limited capacity in distance education generally and in quality assuring this form of provision in particular. Thus, management is making a deliberate effort to build capacity in these key areas of provision in order to elevate the quality of distance and e-Learning.
The UNAM workshop was well-attended, attracting a total of 50 participants on the first day, 45 and 40 on the second and third days respectively. In terms of gender, females constituted 58.5% whilst males were 41.5% of the participants. Although the workshop targeted UNAM –CODeL staff, participants from other ODL institutions in the country and from the Ministry of Education participated. This enriched workshop engagement.
In terms of the content, the workshop focused on aspects that are germane to delivery of quality distance education in a digital era. The first day mainly focused on ODL and Quality Assurance, the second day on SWOT Analysis and Planning, and the third day on Project Prioritisation and Design.
On the third and last day of the workshop, participants identified three possible projects for implementation over the next three years. These were Enhancement of Quality Assurance in ODL at CODeL and in Namibia, Transformation of the Bachelor of Law Programme to Online Course Delivery, and OER Policy Development and Institutionalisation. Participants worked in groups to flesh out the projects into plans with specific project objectives, project activities and project outcomes. Prof Romeela Mohee who was co-facilitating the workshop explained how the project proposals should be linked to COL’s Ultimate Outcomes based on COL Funding Requirements. These three outcomes are:
- Improved sustainable livelihoods for graduates;
- Increased and equitable access to quality learning opportunities, and
- Improved organisational capacity to leverage ODL.
Thus, the first proposed project on quality enhancement was directly linked to the first two outcomes above, the e-Learning initiative was linked to the first outcome, and the initiative on OER policy development and institutionalisation was linked to the second outcome.
As a way forward, these proposals will be developed into implementable projects whose implementation will be monitored over the next three years using a system of indicators. Institutions will be expected to collect data on a regular basis and submit to COL for uploading on a specially designed dashboard system. It is anticipated that using the system of indicators, change will be measurable after three years of implementation.