Academic journal article Quarterly Review of Distance Education

A History of Distance Education in Mexico

Academic journal article Quarterly Review of Distance Education

A History of Distance Education in Mexico

Article excerpt

Our history, the weight of the past and a platform toward the future.

INTRODUCTION

I consider it important to begin this article by making an essential observation: research on distance education in Mexico is still in the embryonic stage, in spite of its long history. One indication is that among the lines of research defined by the Mexican Council on Educational Research, the leading organization in the field in Mexico, distance education does not even appear. Only recently, in the last few years, has an effort been made by educational institutions and professionals interested in doing research in this field, to set up working associations, such as the Distance Education Researchers' Network and Technologies for Learning.

Since research on distance education is just beginning, it should come as no surprise that the definition of its field of inquiry and its conceptualization are imprecise as yet. As a result, the theory and methodology of research into its history are in their infancy, and studies must resort to methodological tools taken from other fields or use information technology and telecommunications as partial reference points. The limitations of these approaches make it difficult to offer in-depth explanations of the current status of distance education, not to mention justifiable proposals for its further development.

It is the intention of this article to look for criteria that take the historical character of education as a starting point. In its origins, education was open and ongoing, a process that is innate in the human condition. In its process of institutionalization, it took on the form of school systems, with a structure and a legitimizing function that excluded those who could not, or would not, adapt to schools' schedules, spaces, and learning methods. This situation created a need for educational programs that were not bound by such rigid conditions. On the basis of these considerations, I undertake this study with the following premises as my starting point: (a) education is a sociocultural product that had a beginning, has evolved, and will one day disappear; (b) distance education develops just as school-based education does, but with an inversely proportional growth curve, because as schools make their admissions and operating processes more closed and rigid, alternative educational options arise; and (c) research into the history of distance education needs its own theoretical and methodological approach, because it is a field that is still in the process of formation. It is hoped that this article will contribute to the development of the field.

OPEN AND DISTANCE EDUCATION

To begin, it is important to take a look at the concepts of open and distance education. Depending on the context, they are sometimes taken as synonyms, and other times their uses can be confused.

Open Education

Unlike in other places, where open refers to unrestricted access to educational institutions with no need to demonstrate previous studies, in Mexico the concept refers to the fact that traditional school processes are made more flexible; for example, class attendance, the school calendar, and examination periods for certifying learning. The documentation of previous studies, however, is still a prerequisite.

Distance Education

Distance education refers more often to the methodological and technological strategies that make it possible to deliver educational contents and provide communication among participants in an educational process even though they do not coincide in space and time. As paradoxical as it may sound, the driving force behind distance education is the desire to do away with distance.

In view of the ambiguities in the use of the term, and not wishing to enter into a debate about its concept or use, I will consider distance education not in its literal meaning, but as the intention to overcome the distances that deny many people access to educational services. …

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