Charles Potter and Mohammad Aslam
Many attempts have been made over the last forty years to improve the standard of education and literacy through non-formal, community and adult education programmes as well as through the formal education system. The literature of the 1970s and early 1980s, in particular, reflected an expectation that non-formal, community and adult education would be able to provide alternative forms of education and curricula in areas where the formal education system could not (Hall and Kidd 1978; Millar 1991a; Thompson 1981). It also reflected an expectation that distance education would be able to play a significant role in non-formal educational settings (Young et al. 1980).
While many non-formal education programmes have produced promising results, overall, the results of non-formal alternatives to the formal curriculum over the past twenty years have been mixed (Coombs 1985; Jamison and Lau 1982; King 1991). The evidence concerning the success and cost-effectiveness of non-formal education involving open and distance learning has also been generally equivocal, and in certain cases disappointing (Dodds 1996; Perraton 2000; Romain and Armstrong 1987). Nevertheless, the scale of the problems faced by developing countries and the sheer number of people who need to be provided with basic education suggest the need for finding ways of reaching and teaching large numbers of people using distance education via the mass media.
The use of mass media in education offers significant cost advantages compared to traditional face-to-face teaching (Adkins 1999; Cobbe 1994 and 1995; Dock and Helwig 1999). However, it has also become clear that distance education often works best in combination with interpersonal interaction and face-to-face contact, especially for learners with low educational levels, younger learners, rural and remote learners unused to formal education, and for some kinds of skill development where feedback on performance is needed. While mass media and distance education can provide information and learning resources for large populations of learners, they cannot easily mobilize local groups or assist individuals without the support of local agents such as tutors, facilitators, group