The Impact of Socio-Cultural Issues for African Students in the South African Distance Education Context

By Lephalala, Mirriam M. K.; Makoe, Mpine | International Journal of E-Learning & Distance Education, January 1, 2012 | Go to article overview

The Impact of Socio-Cultural Issues for African Students in the South African Distance Education Context


Lephalala, Mirriam M. K., Makoe, Mpine, International Journal of E-Learning & Distance Education


Abstract

Open Distance Learning (ODL) takes place within different environments that are influenced by the social, cultural and political fields in which a student lives. This is particularly significant in South Africa where distance learning has been identified as the main system that should provide access to higher education for most students in the country. Through ODL, disadvantaged students can have access to higher education. This study uses a socio-cultural framework to examine distance education students' accounts of their experiences of learning. It reveals aspects of the socio-cultural contexts that tend to be marginalised by ODL institutions.

Résumé

L'apprentissage ouvert et à distance (AOD) se déroule dans divers environnements qui sont influencés par les milieux social, culturel et politique dans lesquels un étudiant vit. Ceci est particulièrement vrai en Afrique du Sud où l'apprentissage à distance a été identifié comme étant le principal dispositif pouvant offrir un accès aux études supérieures, à la plupart des étudiants du pays. Par le biais de l'AOD, les étudiants moins fortunés peuvent accéder aux études supérieures. Cette recherche emploie un cadre de référence socioculturel pour étudier les témoignages rendus par les étudiants au sujet de leurs expériences d'apprentissage. L'étude révèle certains volets des contextes socioculturels qui tendent à être marginalisés par les établissements d'AOD.

Introduction

Open Distance Learning (ODL) is identified by the South African government as a system that sho expand educational opportunities and provide access to individuals who would not have the opportunity to study full time. Various higher education documents reveal a policy commitment t adoption of ODL as the main mode of widening participation and addressing wider educational problems in general (Department of Education (DoE), 1996; Council of Higher Education (CHE), 2004). The National Commission on Higher Education Report (1996) cites distance education as a critical player in redressing past inequalities and removing barriers to access and success. It prop that ODL institutions increase the number of registered students and accommodate them with va levels of competencies at reduced costs. Through ODL, disadvantaged and poorer students, who mainly live in townships and remote rural areas, are provided an opportunity to access higher education without relocating from their families and communities (CHE, 2004).

Since 1994, distance education in South Africa has been responsible for a large share of the incre participation in higher education; from just over 104,000 head-count enrolments in 1990 to over 300,000 in 2008 (DoE, 2010). The participation by African students increased from 49% in 1995 63% in 2007 (CHE, 2009). Distance education institutions constitute more than 38% of all higher education enrolments in the country and more than 85% of students studying through distance a enrolled at the University of South Africa (UNISA), one of the oldest and largest distance educatio providers in Africa (DoE, 2010). Although statistics show that distance education has been succes in increasing participation in higher education, graduation rates declined from 11% in 2004 to 9.5 in 2007 (CHE, 2009). The majority of students, especially those from disadvantaged backgrounds have not been successful in completing their studies. Although it is commonly known that some students in distance education have problems completing their studies, the student throughput a UNISA does not, however, compare well with other ODL institutions, according to the 2009 Highe Education Quality Committee (HEQC) Audit report. This is a source of great concern for the unive because, if this trend continues, UNISA will be not be able to realize its social justice mandate tha requires institutions of higher learning to produce a significant number of graduates to alleviate t critical skills shortage in the country and contribute to social development. …

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