Using distance education for skills development
The report compiles two separate but interlinked pieces of research on the use of distance education for skills for development. The objective of the research was to assess the outcome and effectiveness of professional and vocational programmes delivered through open and distance learning (ODL) in South Asia. The aim subsequently was to draw on this evidence on outcomes to reflect on what potential role ODL can play in low-income countries’ skills strategies in a globalised world economy. The International Research Foundation for Open Learning (IRFOL) undertook the project for the UK DFID Skills for Development Project. Open and distance institutions have now firmly been established in many developing countries. It is in South Asia, however, where they have the longest history. Whereas Africa is in the process of developing many of its ODL institutions, South Asia was the beneficiary of some of the first experiments with ODL (public) sector institutions in the world. Three out of four ODL institutions examined here have been working institutions for more than two decades. Enough time has now passed to make some assessment of how these institutions have performed and whether they have delivered on their potential. At the same time, distance education has also gained a new impetus. For one, skill development has become a key development objective to empower the poor, as well as to develop human capital in traditional areas. For the poor, mostly employed in the informal sector, the aim is to raise their productivity. Also, better skills are needed all the time. Public sector employment is under threat and increasingly workers have to compete in a competitive and saturated labour market. More important is the growing globalised labour market and the growth of service industries sourced by cheap skilled labour in the developing world. Open and distance learning institutions potentially have a role to play in meeting this need. Moreover, the growth of information communication technologies (ICTs) has further bolstered arguments that ODL can play a pioneering role in the rush towards skill acquisition. This has been added to cost and access advantages associated with ODL.
Policymakers making complex decisions regarding post-secondary education needs in their countries need more up-to-date data and analysis on ODL outcomes to make sound policy decisions. It was here that this research project aimed to make a contribution. The starting point of this project was two propositions. One that distance education may be relevant to skills development and two, that we are under informed about its outcomes and the effectiveness of its methods. The research aimed to test some widely accepted views on ODL capacity, in terms of access, outcomes and quality. It did this by drawing on existing research, undertaking new research and accessing substantial new institutional data. Three practitioner case studies, that lasted 18 months each, were undertaken in collaboration with key researchers in public sector ODL institutions in South Asia. In addition, five vocational case studies were undertaken by independent researchers to assess the role of ODL in vocational education. Up to now most of the evidence on ODL vocational experience has come from the developed world. This set of vocational case studies attempts to address this gap and covers new ground by examining ODL vocational training being delivered by the private sector to transfer in-house training in these countries.