A DECADE OF DEVELOPMENT AND EDUCATION IN AFRICA: The Promise of Open and Distance Learning1

N Barney, Pityana Gcob
Open and Distance Learning is an idea whose time has come. It is spearheading an innovative, technology-driven wave of education provision, both public and private, that is rendering international and national borders increasingly porous and challenging traditional and existing notions of dedicated spaces for face-to-face education versus so-called "distance" education. I say "education provision" advisedly, because as we all know, ODL is not confined to the higher education domain, or to the
more » ... domain, or to the traditional dedicated distance education institutions. Its promise and possibilities are also being explored and implemented by many schools and residential universities that are faced with the same kinds of technological advances, constraints, dynamics and challenges as those that have caused traditional distance education institutions to turn to ODL models of provision. Parallel to that we find a burgeoning wave of private education providers who are also tapping into the promise of ODL. With its hallmark flexibility and adaptability, ODL is traversing new domains and opening up hitherto impossible opportunities for many whose circumstances would otherwise have consigned them to the graves of lost opportunity and wasted intellect. 2 Perhaps what we as ODL practitioners acknowledge and what we quietly celebrate, is that the growth of ODL is testament to the demise of exclusivity in higher education provision. The exclusionary triangle of access, cost and quality has been broken by technology and its evolution, allowing broad access to quality education at an affordable price. In short, the growth of ODL has facilitated mass access to quality higher education. It is how we respond to the opportunity that this presents, that will determine its, and our own, future growth and success. Clearly ODL in Africa is being fuelled and driven amongst others, by an unrelenting hunger for education, an impetus for technical and intellectual advancement and an imperative towards human capacity building and training throughout the Continent that is as challenging as it is exciting. This is stated so eloquently by WEB Du Bois in his essay, Of the Dawn of Freedom when he says: "....for education among all kinds of men always has had, and always will have, an element of danger and revolution, of dissatisfaction and discontent. Nevertheless, men strive to know (1994:20) 2 , (my emphasis). The status of higher education in Africa obviously continues to be cause for concern, and given Africa's education challenges and needs, we would be both remiss and negligent were we not to seize upon the promise offered by ODL and make every effort to ensure that it flourishes and produces fruit. Higher Education in Africa has less than a 45% participation rate and less than 2% in sub-Saharan Africa. Enrolment rates in Sub-Saharan Africa are by far the lowest in the world; up from just 1% in 1965 3 to a current 5% 4. The present enrolment rate is the same as that of other developing regions 40 years ago. Moreover, gender disparities have traditionally been wide and remain so. 5 South Africa's participation rate in higher education is 17%, and the aim is to reach a target of 20% by 2010. Compared to participation rates of over 60% in developed countries, African figures are dismal. In addition, Africa has to deal with an almost irreversible brain drain and a scientific revolution and digital divide that have left Africa at a competitive disadvantage. If, to that, we factor in the 2 WEB Du Bois.