What is your dissertation about?

Jared O. Odero
Jared O. Odero

- My research focuses on how the introduction of information and communications technology (ICT) into distance education at public institutions of higher learning in South Africa during the early post-apartheid period from 1994 to 2002, presented learning opportunities for students and enabled the delivery of learning content. Specifically, it analyzed the views and experiences of students concerning their access and usage of ICT equipment and learning materials, and course facilitators (assistants/guides) on how they worked with students at study centers. The views and experiences of students regarding the services of a private Internet café at a technikon (a university of technology) were also analyzed.

The period of my study is important because the new South African government had begun to undertake a democratic transformation process of correcting past injustices due to apartheid, in order to establish an inclusive society. Likewise, the process of merging the public higher education institutions to dismantle the racially segregated system began in 2001. Distance education was viewed as a cheaper means of enhancing student access and participation in higher education, particularly for the historically marginalized races, while ICT was identified as a strategy for enabling teaching and learning.

Distance education began to shift from a purely correspondence model to a blended one with face-to-face meetings and ICT support. The blended model was provided by some on-campus public institutions in partnership with local or international private institutions, both as a way of meeting the student demand for participation, and earning revenue. However, the quality of learning content from the private providers was questionable. Internet coverage in the country was also limited and the cost of access was prohibitive to the poor students. As such, some public universities invited private companies to provide ICT and Internet services to students on campus.

How was the study conducted? 

- A case study research design was adopted to collect and analyze quantitative and qualitative data at four universities and one technikon in South Africa. During fieldwork in South Africa from February to May 2002, I administered two electronic surveys by email and on the Web, to self-selected students at the five case institutions. The first survey examined the views and experiences of 605 respondents (Cases 1-4) who participated in ICT-based distance education, while the second one investigated the views and experiences of 274 respondents (Case 5) who used a private campus-based Internet café. Non-participant observations were made at some learning centers to understand how classes were carried out, and at the Internet café, to understand the type of services offered. Further, 13 unstructured interviews were held with selected students and course facilitators, whereas informal interviews were conducted with some students and the Internet café manager. Finally, a literature review was also undertaken to understand certain issues and trends in ICT-based distance education, within and beyond South Africa.

The analysis of quantitative data (the electronic surveys) generated descriptive statistics that have summarized category and variable patterns within the responses. These responses are displayed using tables, graphs and charts with frequency and percentage distributions, cross tabulations, standard deviation and mean scores. The unstructured interviews were transcribed (put into written form) and relevant sections are presented in the results chapter using verbatim quotations. They complement the quantitative findings.

What are the key results of your study? 

"Many challenges faced by nonwhite students during the period of my study in 2002 are still prevalent today".
"Many challenges faced by nonwhite students during the period of my study in 2002 are still prevalent today".

- Most of the respondents participated in ICT-based distance education because of its flexibility, considering that they were employed. However, some complained that videos and textbooks were not delivered in time, and wanted improvement on the delivery period. The facilitators were happy with their work, though some were disenchanted for not being allowed to effect changes in the study guides. Many respondents used the Internet café for Internet access because they did not have computers and Internet connection at home. It was also a place for socializing and the Internet connection was affordable. Entertainment was another key finding since the respondents could download and listen to music, send email and play computer games. Such fun aspects are important to distance learners because they need motivation, given their solitary nature.

This dissertation contributes to the literature on distance education in South Africa by presenting empirical evidence gathered in 2002, which addresses the gap in research on ICT in education and other related aspects from 1994 until the year 2000, as mentioned in section 1.1 of Chapter 1. The literature has covered developments in ICT, higher and distance education since the early post-apartheid era in South Africa, until the year 2016. My findings add to the existing body of knowledge.

Is there something else you would like to add?

- Many challenges faced by nonwhite students during the period of my study in 2002 are still prevalent today. For instance, many poor black students drop out of university studies because they cannot afford to pay tuition. The 2015-2016 violent protests by students across South Africa for “fee free education” exemplified this. It is therefore important to determine who needs financial support. When poor students drop out, they leave without qualifications and cannot repay study loans. The vision of transforming South Africa must move beyond mere policy rhetoric to understand that equal participation in higher education involves huge investment in human and material resources. Political goodwill is also required because without focusing on empowering the poor students, South Africa might end up reproducing the old apartheid system. The outcome will be that distance education will remain for the poor, while the rich will get a higher (face-to-face) quality education.

Internet cafés are still used today in South Africa by people who do not have Internet connection. For instance, the University of South Africa collaborates with private telecenters to ensure that students in remote areas get affordable Internet connection. Studies from 2013 and 2015 cited in my dissertation show that technophobia and insufficient ICT skills among lecturers remain key challenges. Moreover, South Africa’s higher education system is still struggling with the apartheid legacy and lacks the capacity to apply the ubiquitous technology successfully to provide distance education. I conclude that further research is required to understand the ongoing implementation of ICT-based distance education in South Africa, considering the emergence of massive open online courses. 

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Dissertation in fulltext in DiVA