|Further Diploma in Education (Educational Management) by Distance Education at the University of Pretoria, South Africa (CIE, 2002, 55 p.)|
|7. Key themes emerging from the research data|
Research into the FDEM programme raises questions about the process of quality assurance and the quality of teaching and learning. Interviews conducted by one of the authors in August 2000 with both the franchise partner and UP staff indicate an absence of adequate and robust quality assurance mechanisms, which is manifest in a number of ways.
A key condition for successful learner engagement in the programme is the quality of the assignments that students complete and the feedback they receive. The interviews with the franchise partner and UP staff suggest that this has not happened and that, in fact, the franchise partner has indicated that students should not submit assignments for feedback, although the respondents noted that they were bringing back this requirement. In other words, students could proceed to the examination stage for each module without completing any learning exercise/assignments for feedback. The main reason cited for this was the cost and amount of work required to provide feedback to students for each assignment/exercise.
It was also evident in the interviews that students were not in regular contact with UP lecturers for the course (such contact would not be feasible given the number of students enrolled4) and had to rely on routing their queries through the private franchise partner. This is consistent with the findings of Welch and Van Voore (1999) who noted that, in general, there was a tendency to discourage learners from contacting university staff for academic and administrative queries. While restricting administrative queries to the franchise partner is reasonable, it is less acceptable that students cannot interact with those responsible for providing the text and academic rigour in a context where the franchise partner lacks the capacity to assist students academically. Furthermore, during the interview it became apparent that it was only very recently (i.e. in August 1999) that the franchise partner had established what is referred to as a call centre to handle student queries.5
4 The total number of UP full-time staff involved in the programme is seven, which on a crude count would give a lecturer: learner ratio of about 1:3000 (assuming 25,000 students)
5 During the interviews with one of the representatives from the NPC, it emerged that he was previously Director of Studies and that he had only recently been appointed to a new post as quality assurance director, in response to the criticism from various quarters, such as the CHE, of quality assurance mechanisms and procedures in the college. In other words, at the franchise partner level, a rigorous process of quality assurance was not in place prior to the interview.
The key quality assurance mechanisms identified in the interviews were:
- Co-marking of assignments at UP. Markers include teachers, staff at UP and other universities. Lecturers at UP pointed out during the interviews that all assistant markers were provided with support and training.
- Lecturers at UP were responsible for moderating the marking by the other markers.
- External examiners moderated examination papers and scripts
While these indicate that there is a system of quality assurance in place, there remains the issue of whether this is done rigorously enough, given the number of students involved. The issue of quality is thus a key concern in judging the success of the programme and its efficacy in terms of its objectives.
The earlier discussion has indicated that one of the issues relating to the FDEM is that teacher education priorities in South Africa have not yet been clearly determined.
From an educational management perspective, the FDEM provides a useful approach to developing skills and competencies associated with the devolution of educational control and authority. However, the case study of the programme reveals that those enrolled see it as a route to further qualification (Table 22). This is linked to the desire for promotion, which reflects the fact that, in the school system under apartheid, the acquisition of higher and additional qualifications was a route to enhance career progression.
This shows how teachers in post-apartheid South Africa still construct notions of professional competence as the acquisition of higher and additional qualifications, which is understandable given the number of teachers not yet professionally qualified in South Africa, currently standing at about 80,000 (Parker, 2002). However, the new policy framework assumes that, beyond a basic qualification, there is no direct association between teaching quality and higher or additional qualifications, and the new framework no longer provides incremental increases for qualifications. While this is a reasonable argument, it ignores the reality that teacher salaries are racially distorted. White teachers still earn more because, under apartheid, they were rewarded for additional and higher qualifications, which the majority of black teachers did not and still do not have.
It is worrying that enrolments in education programmes like FDEM are still perceived by many as an access route to higher and additional degrees, which, for many, will provide a route out of the teaching profession. The one unintended consequence of not rewarding teachers with incremental salary increases is that teachers now use further study in education as an exit route to other career opportunities. While it is beyond the remit of higher education institutions to deal with this problem, it does suggest that a crucial element in the emerging policy framework should be appropriate and relevant professional development opportunities for teachers so that they remain within the school sector.