|Further Diploma in Education (Educational Management) by Distance Education at the University of Pretoria, South Africa (CIE, 2002, 55 p.)|
This report forms part of the South African dimension of the Multi-site Teacher Education Research (MUSTER) project,1 which focuses on the models, methods, and practices of training teachers. Quality assurance forms the focus of this investigation, due to the many questions and doubts relating to the quality of distance education courses, particularly Education Management. Such doubts were recently expressed by Saleem Badat, chief executive officer of the Council on Higher Education (Vergnani 2000:46-47):
...if you suddenly enrol 30000 students, how do you quality assure your courses? [...] Good distance education is not necessarily cheap in terms of developing curricula and materials. It's not a matter of taking existing lecture material and turning it into a correspondence course [...] Do we need 25000 people in Education Management in the country? Is this really a priority?
1 The MUSTER (Multi-Site Teacher Education Research) Project is a research project funded by DFID. It is based on collaboration between educational research institutes in Ghana, Lesotho, Malawi, South Africa, Trinidad and Tobago and the University of Sussex Institute of Education. There were four main strands to the research: the costs of teacher education, the college context, curriculum issues, and the process of becoming a teacher.
Of the 30,000 students enrolled for all the FDE courses presented by the University of Pretoria, the majority are enrolled in the FDE Education Management: 25,207 in 1999, and 24,161 in January 2001 (Bureau for Institutional Research and Planning, 2001). These numbers raise important questions for the Pretoria University and for EDL which lie at the heart of this analysis. For whom is the course intended and are the needs of the people really met? The course has been very successful in terms of capturing a large niche market of mostly rural teachers. It is targeted at teachers who are currently in managerial positions. However, our research indicates that many ordinary teachers enrol for Education Management, reasoning that they might be promoted if they obtain this qualification. Nevertheless, as Saleem Badat critically comments:
If the quality of distance education was poor then we are back to the problem of the disadvantaged students getting short-changed.
To avoid this problem he suggested that residential universities should hire more employees for curriculum development as well as for tutorials with distance students and that correspondence should be supplemented with multimedia materials and face-to-face sessions (p.46). Welch and van Voore (1999) also noted that the learners officially targeted for the course might not always be the ones taking the course:
The initial registration requirements for the course were not determined by the SAQA requirements and therefore it was not a restriction for students to enrol even if they were only at a post level one (teacher). The course equips the students with general management skills and competencies which can be used in the classroom to improve classroom management, hence it will not only be teachers in promotional posts that will benefit from the course.
Teachers who register for this programme come from all over the country - Umtata, Boksburg, Bloemfontein, Cape Town, Venda, Kwa Zulu-Natal. However, most of the students appear to come from the Northern Province, Transkei and the Northern Cape i.e. the former homelands.
The following quotation gives some insight into the people who are taking the Pretoria distance course:
Most of the students are black teachers trying to upgrade their qualifications, in pursuit of promotions and raises. Many such teachers are poorly trained because they were forced to attend inferior, segregated schools and colleges, the only facilities open to black people during the apartheid era. Many are seeking to earn a further diploma in education, a credential that supplements a teaching diploma earned after three years of instruction. (Vergnani, 2000: p.46)
Nobody anticipated the immense increase in student enrolments as Prof. Louis Calitz from the Department of Education Management at the University of Pretoria (interview 18/8/00) explains:
When the course was set up in the early 1990s they anticipated about 300 students, but got 700. The enrolment increases every year and has continued to grow exponentially and it exceeded all expectations. Word of mouth is regarded as a key marketing tool by the course lecturers.
Thus, the key questions that guided this investigation attempted to explore some of these issues in greater depth and were as follows:
· Does the course deal with issues of management in disadvantaged school contexts and acknowledge the highly differentiated experiences of many teachers under apartheid?
· Does the course target the particular needs of ESOL speakers, studying at a distance in rural areas without easy access to the kind of resources available in urban areas?
· How does the FDE deal with practical issues and theoretical requirements when addressing the quality of the courses?