|Distance Education in Engineering for Developing Countries - Education Research Paper No. 13 (DFID, 1995, 102 p.)|
|Section 11: Summary|
The Czech Republic, Sri Lanka and Zimbabwe are three very distinct countries in different parts of the world and affected by very different local, regional and international trends and developments. Evidently each country has its own priorities, goals and objectives. On the face of it there are few if any links between the three, yet there are several notable and striking similarities between them. Some of the similarities are broad, others are more specific and directly relevant to the project.
· The people of all three countries share a respect for education and place high value upon it.
· This is borne out by the huge over subscription for places in tertiary education: each year, thousands of qualified Czechs, Sri Lankans and Zimbabweans are refused places in higher education. There are huge demands on the existing systems.
· In all three cases the proportion of students in higher education in relation to the total population is much lower than for example in most European countries.
· The students in each country appear generally to be more interested in the arts and humanities than in technical subjects such as engineering.
· Accredited, recognised qualifications are important in all three countries. Foreign degrees from acceptable and well-known institutions often have more cachet than an in-country qualification.
· Privatisation, the private sector and small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) have an extremely important role to play in all three economies. It is acknowledged in all three cases that training in these areas would be beneficial.
Requirements specific to engineering training
· There is a universal need for updating in engineering although the extent, level, subjects and immediacy of the need varies depending on the country. In most cases however there is little support from industry with regard to updating as there are often more pressing needs such as survival at the top of the agenda.
· At the professional engineering level, numbers in individual countries requiring updating in any specific subject are smaller, so that the economies of scale brought about by distance education are less advantageous. In these cases and where the training requirement is common, specialist courses should be produced or adapted to serve more than one country.
· At post experience/professional engineering levels, there is a need for technical updating, although less so in the Czech Republic.
· The greatest need lies at the technician level where the numbers of people requiring training allows for significant economies of scale compared with the smaller numbers of engineers at a higher level. Zimbabwe in particular needs to focus on the application of skills. Management skills are less important for the technician group.
· At the level of craft and apprentices, the practical skill aspects of the job are dominant and distance education becomes less appropriate.
· In any case, students on craft courses or apprenticeships tend to be younger than engineers at higher level and for this reason, and also their limited previous educational experience, are not as well suited to the style of being an independent learner.
· In all three countries, priority is given to export competitiveness which implies a market-led approach, increased productivity and continuity of supply and efficient management. Yet there is a universal need and great demand for the management skills required to bring about the competitiveness: entrepreneurship, quality and quality assurance, communications, engineering management training, project management etc.
· Each country expressed an interest in management, information technology, environmental issues (especially the Czech Republic) and improving production.
· There is an awareness of distance learning in all three countries, more so in Sri Lanka and Zimbabwe than in the Czech Republic where the concept is often erroneously equated with the old Communist correspondence courses. In each case however there would need to be a programme to raise awareness of modern distance learning focusing on the philosophy, its participatory nature and benefits, and the use of modern educational technology.
· In all three countries, open universities/institutions are high on the agenda. In Sri Lanka the Open University has been established for 14 years, in the Czech Republic a national Centre for Distance Learning is to be established in January 1995, in Zimbabwe a Presidential Commission is currently producing a report on how and when an Open University should be established.
· In all three countries, students would require training and briefing in distance learning methods and study skills.
· In view of the traditional conservatism of most established universities, it is likely that they would not welcome the introduction of distance learning (as happened in the UK when the Open University was established) and it would be some time before they would lend their support. This would be particularly true in the case of the Czech Republic.
· In all three countries there is a need to train both the producers and developers of distance education materials as well as the tutors and administrators who support the delivery of the programmes.
Effectiveness and cost-effectiveness
· In the three cases, it would almost certainly be more cost-effective to buy in existing distance learning courses rather than to develop new courses ab initio. These would need to be modified and tailored to suit local demand with the external organisation, working closely with an in-country partner. Translation might be required in the case of Sri Lanka and the Czech Republic.
· In all three countries, there are networks which could profitably and cost-effectively be used to help support the infrastructure necessary for any successful distance learning course. Student support would be fundamental and where possible there should be a local tutor to help the students and to discourage drop-out.
· Moreover, the networks often provide existing facilities which could be used for the practical instruction.
· The establishment of a programme of distance learning in a country for the first time would need to take account of the availability, reliability and useability of the appropriate media of transmission.
· Practically based subjects such as engineering can be taught effectively by distance learning if the practical issues are taught locally in suitable facilities. To that end, the curriculum should be carefully analysed and the medium of delivery utilised accordingly. This will reduce the time spent on the practical aspects of an engineering course with consequent cost-advantages and more effective utilisation of plant and facilities, thus allowing greater numbers of students to be trained.
· The use of modern technologies such as video and satellite broadcasting as a medium of delivery could very effectively allow large numbers of students to be instructed in practical techniques.
· Any distance learning programme should be priced realistically in accordance with the means of the local population.