Introducing Distance Learning into Jamaica's Technical Vocational Education and Training System: Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, and Threats

By Hinds, Roxanne | Distance Learning, January 1, 2016 | Go to article overview

Introducing Distance Learning into Jamaica's Technical Vocational Education and Training System: Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, and Threats


Hinds, Roxanne, Distance Learning


INTRODUCTION

Jamaica's Vision 2030 Plan is designed to move the country to developed nation status by the year 2030. It includes a number of sector plans. One of these is the Training and Workforce Development Sector Plan (2009). This plan identifies "inflexible delivery modalities" (p. 25) as a weakness in the SWOT (strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats) analysis of training and workforce development in Jamaica. The plan identifies the promotion of distance education/training programs as a strategy and the provision of distance education delivery as an action to increase learning opportunities, toward achieving the goal of creating a learning society. The plan names the Human Employment and Resource Training Trust, National Training Agency, HEART Trust/ NTA, commonly referred to as HEART, as one of the agencies responsible for implementation of this strategy.

This article presents a SWOT analysis of the introduction of distance education in Jamaica's technical vocational education and training (TVET) system by the HEART Trust/NTA. This analysis is guided by Rogers' diffusion of innovations theory and instructional technology and distance education best practices. The SWOT analysis is a tool used to analyze an organization's internal environment for strengths and weaknesses, which are based on factors over which the organization has control. It also examines the external environment for opportunities and threats, which are based on factors over which the organization has no direct control. A SWOT analysis can be a useful planning tool for organizations as it allows for the development of a broad understanding of an initiative so key decisions can be made about it (Morrill, 2007).

THE SWOT analysis of the introduction of distance education in Jamaica's TVET system by HEART must occur within a defined context. Therefore, this article will first provide an introduction to the demographic environment of Jamaica and then provide an overview of the place of TVET in Jamaica. Next, it will explore characteristics of TVET that may make implementation of distance education in this stream of education different from its use in the traditional education system. Once the contextual base is set, the SWOT analysis of HEART's introduction of distance education will follow. The article will conclude with recommendations for improving the approach to the introduction of distance education in the country's TVET system.

JAMAICA: A DEMOGRAPHIC OVERVIEW

Jamaica is an island nation located in the northwestern Caribbean Sea, approximately 90 miles south of Cuba. With a population estimated at 2,717,991 people at the end of 2013 (Statistical Institute of Jamaica, 2015), Jamaica is the most populous country in the English-speaking Caribbean (Commonwealth of Learning, 2015). Based on the 2014 gross national income per capita, the country is classified by the World Bank as an upper-middle-income nation (World Bank, 2015). Jamaica is ranked 96th of 187 on the UNDP Human Development Index and is classified as a high human development nation (UNDP, 2014). This means that the country is considered to have a high level of social and economic development based on life expectancy at birth, mean years of schooling, expected years of schooling, and gross national income per capita.

Despite these seemingly positive standings, Jamaica's economic growth is severely challenged by high debt and unemployment. Jamaica's debt to GDP ratio was at 140% at the end of the 2014/ 2015 fiscal year, although this number has been declining, which makes it among the highest in the world (World Bank, 2015, March 30). However, due to recent debt restructuring and fiscal contraction efforts, including a 4-year Extended Fund Facility entered into with the International Monetary Fund in May 2013, Jamaica's debt to gross domestic product ratio has been declining (World Bank, 2015, March 30). The unemployment rate in Jamaica stood at 13.2% at April 2015, with youth unemployment at 34. …

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