Academic journal article International Journal of Education and Development using Information and Communication Technology

Blended Learning in Distance Education: Sri Lankan Perspective

Academic journal article International Journal of Education and Development using Information and Communication Technology

Blended Learning in Distance Education: Sri Lankan Perspective

Article excerpt

INTRODUCTION

Globalization, though a contested concept, is a major force behind the contemporary social transformations. Within an increasingly competitive global economy driven by technological innovation, contemporary economies rely heavily on knowledge-based production; today, "knowledge has become 'the central factor of production'" (Drucker, 1969, p. 248) in many developed economies with an increasing reliance on intangible capital (David & Foray, 2003). Due to the rapid rate of knowledge production in the contemporary knowledge-based economies, the rate of knowledge depreciation is also high (David & Foray, 2003; Davis & Botkin, 1994). This has placed a great importance on lifelong learning. Furthermore, the global economy demands new skills from workers; thus, whether literacy rate - the traditional indicator of education and the standard of living in a country - is an adequate measure of educational level is questionable. In fact, Dordick and Wang (1993) argue that

In the information age, literacy is not sufficient to ensure a high-quality work force; higher education is needed. A useful measure is the percentage of students attending tertiary school in their age groups, (p.111 )

In wealthy countries, tertiary education enrolment rates rose from 2.2% in the 1960s to 59% in 2002, catering to the new skills demanded by the global economy. However, developing countries have only had a microscopic increase in tertiary education enrolments - from 1.3% to 4% (UNESCO, 2005). Apart from this, the deteriorating conditions in the global economy for generic workers engaged in routine and/or low skills jobs (Klein, 2002) and the privileged position of educated and skilled 'knowledge workers' in the contemporary global knowledge economy (Beck, 2000; Castells, 2000) also increases aspirations of higher education.

Dordick and Wang's position is important in reviewing the case of Sri Lanka, where the literacy rate (currently over 91%) is higher than the South Asian average, but higher education enrolment rates are low. Data from household surveys show that there is a disproportionately low access to higher education in Sri Lanka. For example, in 2000, when 53% of Indians were illiterate, there were 5.7% with above secondary level education; on the other hand, in Sri Lanka, where only 14% were illiterate, just 3% had attained above secondary level education (Riboud, Savchenko, & Tan, 2007).

HIGHER EDUCATION IN SRI LANKA

Sri Lanka is often cited as a statistical outlier in the South Asian region for its remarkable record on literacy rates and the achievement of universal primary education (Jayaweera & Gunawardena, 2007; Riboud, Savchenko, & Tan, 2007). The 'Free Education Policy' of Sri Lanka allows every child to access primary and secondary education in state schools free of charge. Not only are there no enrolment fees or tuition fees, but also the text-books and uniforms are provided free of charge. However, at the tertiary level, there are very few places (around 22,000 entrants a year - catering for just 3% of the school leaving-age cohort) for higher education in state universities with no tuition or enrolment fees. The General Certificate of Advanced Level examination (equivalent to the UK's A-levels or the final-year exams of high schools in the US) is used for university entrance evaluations and there is heavy competition to access these limited places in the state university system.

The government has acknowledged that:

Successfully meeting Sri Lanka's economic challenges will require an educational system that better meets the needs of the country. The present system leaves far too great a share of our human resources under-developed (Government of Sri Lanka, 2002, p. 11).

Increasing capacity in the traditional higher education system has been frequently attempted since the 1980s, but has failed miserably. Although many private institutions provide good quality programs - some even offering UK, Australian and US university degrees - the high fees charged in these programs have hindered the participation of many potential students. …

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